Hungary opposition eyes anti-corruption drive to unlock EU funding

2 minute read

Opposition candidate for prime minister Peter Marki-Zay speaks during a joint demonstration organised by opposition parties during the celebrations of the 65th anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, in Budapest, Hungary, October 23, 2021. REUTERS/Marton Monus/File Photo

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BUDAPEST, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Hungary's opposition hopes a clampdown on corruption and joining the European Public Prosecutor's Office will unlock European Union recovery funding to boost economic growth and investment, its leader Peter Marki-Zay said on Wednesday.

The EU has been at loggerheads with Budapest for years over issues ranging from LGBT rights to press and academic freedom.

Hungary is set to receive 7.2 billion euros in stimulus funds meant to revive economic growth mauled by the coronavirus pandemic, but a row with Brussels over democratic standards has led to a freeze in payments.

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The row and a surge in inflation have complicated nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban's path to re-election. For the first time since a 2010 election landslide, the 58-year-old leader will face a united front of opposition parties.

By joining the European Public Prosecutor's Office and fighting corruption, Hungary would secure trust that EU taxpayers' money was being properly spent, Marki-Zay told an economic forum, citing his talks with EU leaders. read more

Marki-Zay said the funds would be invested in energy efficiency schemes, social housing programmes and energy projects.

Marki-Zay, a political outsider with no party affiliation, said, if elected, his government would "immediately" raise wages for teachers, healthcare workers, police, and social workers.

The opposition also plans to increase healthcare spending by 300 billion forints ($970 million) per year during the next parliament, he said, providing a glimpse into the opposition's economic agenda, which he said would be fully unveiled on Feb. 23.

Orban's Fidesz party pulled two percentage points ahead of the opposition alliance in a January survey by pollster Republikon Institute published last month.

Orban's government, which is giving households tax rebates and other measures worth a combined 1.8 trillion forints ($5.83 billion) in the run-up to the vote, expects economic growth to slow to around 5% this year from nearly 7% in 2021.

Budapest had postponed investments worth 755 billion forints this year to shore up finances after repeated warnings from the central bank that risks to the economy were growing. read more

($1 = 308.9200 forints)

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Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Alex Richardson

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