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Hungary can wait for euro amid decline

Hungary's prime minister has said his country's in no rush to join the euro during a visit to Berlin. Chancellor Merkel said she understood why the moment might seem wrong, while holding her tongue on other matters.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in Berlin on Thursday that Hungary was not considering joining the single European currency in the short term.

"Hungary will enter into the euro area once this prospect really offers benefits and once we are ready," Orban said in a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel. "We in no way reject the euro, but we don't want to join up as novices."

In an earlier interview with the German business daily Handelsblatt, Orban had suggested that some countries were guilty of rushing into the euro, implying this had helped destabilize the currency.

"Those who entered the euro unprepared brought damage upon themselves and dragged others down with them, that wasn't fair," Orban told Handelsblatt.

Merkel, meanwhile, said that this position was an understandable one, appearing to allude to the difficulties currently facing several members of the eurozone like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus - all of whom are receiving some form of financial assistance from international partners.

"I have great understanding for a country that is currently following its own economic path deciding that the moment is not right to start working on an entry into the eurozone," Merkel told reporters at the joint press conference.

EU and Hungarian flags fly in front of a Hungarian crest as sympathizers of Hungarian green-liberal opposition party LMP (Policy may be different) protest against Hungarian President (not pictured) at the presidental palace on March 30, 2012. (photo: ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images)

Orban's recent changes in Budapest raised eyebrows in Brussels

Theoretically, every EU member apart from Britain and Denmark is bound to join the euro sooner or later. Hungary has been in the bloc since 2004. Owing to the current turbulence within the eurozone, however, several EU members with their own currencies like Hungary and Poland have shown little enthusiasm to rush into the currency union.

Open, behind closed doors

The German chancellor described her talks with Orban as "very open," even on more difficult matters such as the Hungarian reform packages that have come under intense scrutiny in Brussels. In public, however, Merkel confined herself to generalities, praising Hungary for making changes "in those areas where there were doubts from the European Commission or the European Parliament."

Orban, who governs with a sturdy two-thirds parliamentary majority, has also come under criticism from the German opposition parties. The parliamentary chairman of the Greens, Jürgen Trittin, had urged Merkel to "speak plain English" during the conservative premier's visit. Hungary's reforms to the legal system, new laws on data protection, the media and electoral law have all come under investigation for possible breaches of EU treaties.

Germany is a key trading partner for Hungary, purchasing roughly one quarter of the country's exports.

When asked by a Hungarian journalist whether she was jealous of the overwhelming parliamentary majority Orban's Fidesz party enjoys, Merkel said "I am of course happy when our coalition secures majorities in elections."

msh/hc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)