BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary can realistically start formal talks with the European Union and the IMF about a vital funding deal in early March and an agreement can be reached by the middle of the second quarter, a ruling Fidesz party lawmaker said on Saturday.
Hungary, at odds with Brussels over a range of legislation which some critics have called a threat to its democracy, needs the financing backstop to retain access to market funding and avert a full-blown debt crisis.
MP Antal Rogan told the daily Magyar Nemzet that the government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shared common goals such as achieving a sustainable debt level, fiscal stability and creating conditions for economic growth.
“These goals match the goals of the Hungarian government and we are preparing proposals for the negotiations which, if they are accepted, can result in a fast deal,” Rogan was cited as saying in an interview. He did not go into details.
“I’m quite certain that an agreement (with IMF) can be reached by the middle of the second quarter.”
The conservative government has drawn fire from the international community for introducing a swathe of measures that threaten the independence of the media, the judiciary and the central bank since sweeping to power in 2010.
In mid-January the European Commission gave Hungary one month to respond to its concerns over legislation which is seen hurting the central bank’s independence, and two other laws which force judges into retirement and leave the data protection authority open to political interference.
The EU’s deadline will expire at the end of next week, and Hungary will need to meet EU demands to unlock talks about a new financing deal and avert legal action by the Commission.
Rogan said parliament, which will reconvene after a recess on Monday, will not deal with the required law amendments next week yet, as the government would first send those to Brussels.
“I believe it is a more fortunate solution if first the Commission in Brussels forms an opinion on the bills, and they go to parliament only after that,” Rogan said.
“I think an agreement with the EU is possible on all three issues: the central bank, the data protection and also the issue if judges, the judiciary,” he added.
The conservative Fidesz party government backed down in the dispute with the EU only after Hungary’s financial markets and the forint took a hammering in the first week of January.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s pledges to seek a fast deal with lenders have since boosted the forint and government bonds, but investors now want to see evidence that the government will stick to its pledges and comply with lenders’ conditions.
Reporting by Krisztina Than; editing by Patrick Graham