Hungary Mandates Pro-Government Ads for Banks in Loan Program

Hungary is ordering lenders to run pro-government advertisements if they publicize a new subsidized mortgage program, according to a decree issued by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s cabinet.

A government logo saying ‘Hungarian reforms work!’ must be included in media or billboard advertisements by banks offering the subsidized loans, according to the directive signed by Antal Rogan, Orban’s chief of staff in charge of communications, in Saturday’s official gazette. Banks must adhere to a specific color, font and size for the slogan.

Orban has used his past six years in office to expand his control over the private economy and civil society, often with an eye for the smallest details. Before the last elections in 2014, the cabinet forced energy providers to highlight savings on monthly bills in orange, the color of the ruling Fidesz party, while residential buildings had to publicly display the effects of government-mandated energy price cuts on bulletin boards at the entrance. Banks have been one of the most frequent targets of Orban’s rhetoric and taxation.

In the new housing program, the government is offering a 10 million-forint ($36,000) subsidy and a matching loan for larger families when they purchase a newly-built home. The aid is part of a plan to help the construction industry recover and boost economic growth in the junk-rated European Union member.

OTP Bank Nyrt., Hungary’s largest bank, competes mostly with foreign banks, including Erste Group Bank AG, Raiffeisen Bank International AG, UniCredit SpA, Intesa SanPaolo SpA and KBC Groep NV, as well recently purchased state-owned lenders MKB Bank Zrt. and Budapest Bank Zrt.

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