Hungary's Orban says crisis may overstretch Europe's democracies

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Europe's democracies might not be up to coping with the crisis they face, making the case in an interview for the "presidential" form of leadership that has let him drive through tough reforms at home.

A fiercely independent leader whose economic and social policies have drawn protests from foreign investors, governments and international bodies, Orban told German business daily Handelsblatt he was "a passionate supporter of democracy".

"But the question has to be asked if the leadership structures in democratic systems are still up to the times," he said, citing the challenges of dealing with sovereign debt crises and reforming social welfare states.

That could not become a taboo in the event of a weakness of leadership, Orban said in an interview published hours ahead of a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"Our current democratic systems have built-in weaknesses," he said, referring to Europe. "A presidential system is probably more suitable than a parliamentary system in times when difficult reforms need to be pushed through."

Since winning an election in 2010, Orban has drawn heavy criticism from among others the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for pushing through reforms that opponents say threaten the independence of the country's media, judiciary and central bank.

He has yielded ground on some of these issues.

Orban said U.S. presidents had the power to push through tough decisions "against the will of the people if they are important for the country's future".

Within five years, Europe would be debating whether it needed stronger presidents based on that model.

"The longer the (debt) crisis lasts, the louder the calls will be for strong political leadership," he said. "We've got to find democratic answers to that as soon as possible."

The government, dominated by Orban's Fidesz party, has a two-thirds majority in parliament. It is among the most stable in the EU even though public support for the party has crumbled to around 16-18 percent, according to opinion polls that also showed half the electorate undecided.

In the interview, Orban also said it would be irresponsible for Hungary to join the euro now as the key lesson to be learned from the debt crisis was that southern states had joined the currency zone before they were ready.

"We are not going to repeat that mistake," he said.

(Additional reporting by Gergely Szakacs in Budapest; Editing by John Stonestreet)