Orbán explains bank purchase; backs Sunday closings

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The government does not wish to establish a big state-owned lender by purchasing the Budapest Bank, but to ensure that enough of the banking sector is in Hungarian hands and financing is not suspended in a time of crisis, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in an interview on public radio today, Hungarian news agency MTI reported.

The prime minister also suggested that he supports the Sunday closings bill.

Discussing banks, Orbán noted that lending at foreign-owned Hungarian banks stopped "in an instant" as soon as the global financial crisis arrived.

Yesterday, National Economy Minister Mihály Varga announced that the government had agreed to buy Budapest Bank, the country's eighth-biggest lender, from General Electric Group. He said Budapest Bank, as well as the recently acquired MKB Bank, could be privatized within one to two years.

Orbán said the acquisition of Budapest Bank would raise the percentage of the banking sector in Hungarian hands to "well over 50%", a threshold earlier set as a goal by the government.

Speaking about a proposal to restrict shop openings on Sundays, Orbán said the proposal was not about closing stores, but about preventing employers from making people work on Sundays.

Asked about Russia's decision announced earlier in the week to scrap the South Stream gas pipeline, Orbán said "that file has been closed", adding that an alternative to the South Stream and the Nabucco pipelines must be sought. He said Hungary's strategic agreement with Azerbaijan presented an "opportunity". The aim is to bring a gas line to Hungary that bypasses Ukraine, and to have price competition among suppliers, he added.

In reference to the 2015 budget bill before Parliament, Orbán said the bill shows that national independence is "not only good...but useful in an economic sense". He added that the government's policies had directly served the day-to-day economic interests of Hungarian households, citing reduced energy prices, low inflation, the start of economic growth and more jobs.

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