Hungary PM raps EU ‘blackmail’ in row over money, rule of law

Viktor Orban Prime Minister of Hungary attends a news conference following talks with his counterparts from central Europe's Visegrad Group in Lublin, Poland, on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. In preparation for European Union summit this month, the prime ministers of Poland, The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary discussed situation in Belarus, ties with Russia and fighting COVID-19.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accused the European Union on Wednesday of seeking to “blackmail” member states that did not toe its line on immigration, two days after he vetoed the bloc’s multi-year budget and post-COVID recovery package.

Hungary and Poland on Monday blocked the 2021-2027 budget and the recovery plan, worth a combined 1.85 trillion euros (1.65 trillion pounds), because access to the funds would be conditional on respecting the rule of law.

Orban, whose nationalist government is under investigation for undermining the independence of Hungary’s courts, media and non-governmental organisations, linked his veto to his continued opposition to mass immigration into the EU.

“Once this proposal gets adopted, there will be no more obstacles to tying member states’ share of common funds to supporting migration and use financial means to blackmail countries which oppose migration,” Orban said in a statement published by state news agency MTI.

There was no immediate reaction to his comments from the EU’s executive Commission.

The budget and recovery package do not have any specific clauses about immigration, which Orban has long opposed as a threat to national and European identity and culture.

Political Capital analyst Patrik Szicherle said Orban’s comments were aimed at shoring up support among his nationalist base and also at broadening his options in upcoming talks.

“He wants to dilute the conditions enough not to limit his room for manoeuvre,” he said. “At the same time frugal states like the Netherlands want firm conditions (to disbursement of funds)… This is a stalemate we don’t see a clear path out of.”

Orban’s ally Poland, also under a formal EU process for alleged backsliding on democratic principles, struck a softer tone on Wednesday, saying it sought dialogue with its EU partners.

“(But) if some countries are determined to break EU law, Poland will use its veto right,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s chief of staff said, in a reference to the efforts by some western states to establish a direct link between the allocation of funds and the rule of law.

The eastern states are big recipients of EU subsidies.

Germany, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said on Tuesday it was confident of finding a compromise.

Czech and Slovak foreign ministers, at a joint news conference on Wednesday, urged swift action to ensure a speedy release of money sorely needed to revive Europe’s pandemic-stricken economy.

Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said the German presidency could probably end the deadlock before year-end.

Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok said the deadlock “does not please anybody… there is still space to find a solution, to depoliticise the whole issue”.

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