Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for a European Union Summit at the Europa building in Brussels on December 12, 2019. Picture: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for a European Union Summit at the Europa building in Brussels on December 12, 2019. Picture: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

Budapest — Hungary is taking over privately-owned fertility clinics, deepening the control exercised by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government over citizens’ private sphere and the country’s economy.

The EU country is under the spotlight, clashing with the bloc over democratic norms as Orban advances policies that suppress civic groups and give him control over media outlets, courts and other formerly independent institutions.

The cabinet on Thursday designated a state entity to run several clinics in Budapest and other cities, citing in a decree the need to stop a population decline. It also took ownership of the clinics’ buildings and made their merger exempt from competition checks under a “national strategic” importance rule.

The takeover adds to attempts to reverse the demographic trend which has seen the eastern European country’s population dip below 10-million. Recent measures such as subsidies for home and car purchases for families have not yielded clear results at a time when the citizenry of developed nations declines across Europe.

One of the premier’s signature moves was to nationalise privately-managed pensions. He has completed an ideological turnaround from liberal anti-communist youth activist to Christian nationalist firebrand.

The state has already been subsidising many treatments at the affected clinics, yet the government has argued it wants to make fertility treatments cheaper and faster.

Bloomberg