Let non-members into euro faster, Hungarian premier says

Ferenc GyurcsanyBrussels  - The European Union should ease its rules to allow new members to swap their national currency for the euro more rapidly, Hungary's prime minister said Tuesday.

"The best protection against foreign-exchange problems is to join the eurozone ... We should see how the steps towards the euro could be made quicker," Ferenc Gyurcsany told journalists in Brussels.

In particular, countries which have met the EU's strict rules on inflation and budget discipline should be allowed to join the single currency without having to spend two years in the preparatory Exchange Rate Mechanism 2 (ERM 2), he said.

"Without relaxing the conditions of euro accession, do we have to wait two years in the ante-room? Is it important to keep these countries in the lobby for so long?" he said.

Gyurcsany was speaking after talks with European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso.

In October, the commission agreed to give Hungary 6.5 billion euros (8.3 billion dollars) as part of an international rescue plan aimed at shoring up the Hungarian forint.

Hungary's crisis response plan shows the "right policies," so the commission will pay the second instalment of the donation at the end of March, Barroso said.

But while the EU's executive is keen to see all EU newcomers join the euro, Barroso insisted that those countries would have to meet the criteria for joining the currency, and would have to win the approval of current members for any fast-track accession.

Would-be euro members have to keep their inflation below agreed levels and maintain their government budget deficits at below 3 per cent of gross domestic product.

According to the commission, Hungary's deficit should fall below the 3-per-cent mark this year for the first time in over a decade.

The financial crisis has kick-started a drive to join the euro in many current non-members.

On Monday, Poland's deputy finance minister said that the country hoped to join ERM 2 by June. (dpa)

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