Hungary, Sweden snipe at each other over Hungary's birth plan

BUDAPEST/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Hungary and Sweden complained to each other’s ambassadors on Wednesday after a Swedish minister tweeted that a Hungarian plan to increase birth rates “reeks of the 30s,” prompting a retaliation from a Hungarian deputy.

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, announced tax and loan benefits for families in his state-of-the-nation speech on Feb. 10, as part of his government’s efforts to increase the birth rate while maintaining a hard line against immigration.

The scheme will expand a loan program for families with at least two children to help them buy homes, provide subsidies for car purchases and waive personal income tax for women raising at least four children.

Orban, a right-wing nationalist, said the country needed Hungarian children rather than immigrants.

“What is happening in Hungary is alarming. Now, Orban wants more ‘genuine’ Hungarian children to be born,” Swedish Social Affairs Minister Annika Strandhall tweeted on Feb. 12.

“This policy reeks of the 30s and as right-wing populist they need to create smoke-screens for what this kind of politics does to the independence that women have been fighting for,” said Strandhall, a Social Democrat and feminist.

Zsolt Semjen, Orban’s Christian Democrat deputy, responded on a Sunday evening television talk show, saying Strandhall’s remarks were an aberration triggered by political correctness, according to a summary of his remarks published online.

The Swedish ministry of foreign affairs said it met the Hungarian ambassador on Wednesday to tell her dialogs should be conducted without personal attacks, a ministry spokesman said.

Budapest in turn summoned the Swedish ambassador over Strandhall’s tweet, saying it was appalling that the Swedish minister should, in effect, accuse the Hungarian government of Nazism over its efforts to help families.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Olof Swahnberg; editing by Larry King