Hungary expects loan talks with the European Union and International Monetary Fund to start soon and conclude by the end of March or in April after it responded to Brussels' policy concerns last week, a senior economy ministry official was quoted on Monday as saying.
Hungary, which needs a standby agreement with the IMF and the EU to prop up its shattered market credibility and ensure smooth financing of its expiring debt, has said it was willing to compromise on most disputed points with its partners.
However, it signalled on Friday that in some issues, such as the oath of office and the salary of the central bank governor, it would stand its ground, while it expected concessions from the EU regarding the retirement of judges.
The European Commission had some questions and we have answered on Friday. I hope we will now be able to start official negotiations with the IMF and the European Union, Economy Ministry State Secretary Zoltan Csefalvay told the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza in an interview.
I expect we will manage to seal a deal (with the IMF) at the end of the first quarter, maybe in April.
In a separate interview with the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita Csefalvay said Hungary expected the IMF to focus on policy and not budget execution in the talks, and signalled that Hungary would welcome the Fund's suggestions.
I think the IMF will not have too many queries about our budget, he said. It may have doubts regarding some aspects of our policies, like the central bank matter for example, but we will carry out the changes required on that front.
Some analysts have said a deal with the IMF and EU would likely be reached only later, in May or June, as talks with lenders are expected to be difficult after two years of government legislation which some critics have said threatened Hungarian democracy.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Patrick Graham)