The Hungarian economy: there is reason to rejoice

Although the "largest opposition party" (the synonym for the Fidesz in the media) constantly predicts a dire future for the country, it seems that economic indicators show just the opposite. And not just economic indicators but everyday experience as well. For instance, two new models of Opel vans were introduced only recently and 300 have already been sold. A festival held in western Hungary (Valley of the Arts–Művészetek Völgye) had 260,000 visitors, ten thousand more than last year. The Forma-1 Hungaroring had 250,000 visitors; ticket sales were 32.6% higher than last year. The sixteen hotels designated for the visitors were almost 100% full during the three and a half days of the event. Lake Balaton is once again popular after many years of dismal figures. All the rooms are occupied, and the beaches are packed.

Thus, the Fidesz’s description of a country where people are hungry, where they cannot pay the newly introduced health care co-payments of approximately $2.00, seems like wishful thinking on their part. Or simple propaganda, which aleady backfired once last year in the election campaign when the slogan was, "We live worse than four years ago." That was the slogan they came up with after a 40% rise in real wages! Surely, it just simply didn’t ring true. However, Viktor Orbán and his team continue the same strategy.

As for the economic indicators. The reduction of the deficit is proceeding at a faster pace than initially anticipated (and as originally outlined to Brussels). It seems to be on target to reach its goal of 3% of GDP by 2009. One reason is the stricter control of tax revenues. The announcement that those who don’t pay or on whose behalf the employer doesn’t pay insurance will not be eligible for "free" healthcare did achieve its goal. About 100,000 people began paying dues, and their numbers continue to grow. The percentage of the actively employed (between the ages of 15 and 64) is still low: 57.6% as compared to the EU average of 63.4%, but the private sector in the first six months of 2007 employed 1.5% more people than during the same period in 2006. This growth however was offset by a 3.5% reduction in the number of civil servants. Inflation, which was very high at the beginning of the year, is coming down rapidly. Right now the prediction is for a year over year increase of 5.7% as opposed to an earlier, more pessimistic prediction of 6% to 7% by the Hungarian National Bank. The economists also predict that the National Bank will further reduce the interest rate to 7% as opposed to 12% last year under Zsigmond Járai’s hectic moves against alleged inflationary pressures.

The farmers have never lived better, and the Fidesz finds it difficult to get them out on the roads with their tractors. A few days ago there was a feeble demonstration organized in a northeastern county where a killer frost did severe damage to the fruit crops, but the minister of agriculture managed to convince the farmers–mostly misled by their own leaders and by Fidesz politicians–that their demands simply could not be met. Not because the Hungarian government doesn’t sympathize with their plight but because EU rules don’t allow the fulfillment of their demands. The minister of agriculture is so popular with the farmers that when he arrived to negotiate they greeted him with enthusiastic applause.

On top of everything else, here is this gigantic road building project where people talk about billions as if they were 100 Ft bills. A few days ago a beautiful new bridge on the Danube (the longest in Hungary) opened. Yesterday was the opening of a new section of M7 along the south shore of Lake Balaton, including the longest viaduct in the country at the village of Kőröshegy. Although the villagers were originally not altogether enthusiastic about the project, by now they are very satisfied. Many families managed to earn extra income by renting out rooms to the people working on the viaduct. In addition, the local bars and restaurants also saw very brisk business during the construction. The local government received approximately 60 million forints as a result of a rather peculiarly Hungarian (and apparently Italian) form of taxation that must be paid by all businesses operating within the city limits. The local government spent the money on the village’s infrastructure: sidewalks were built, the village center was renewed. The city fathers are now planning, again with EU money, three new streets. As a result, the general mood of the village folks is greatly improved. Several people are planning new businesses: a restaurant, horse tourism, and so on. This is how things work. No wonder that the Fidesz is nervous.