With less than a year before the election, Viktor Orban will not let 1 billion euros hinder him and his reputation as a strong man against the European Union to defend national interests.
Hungary is expected to receive the first payment of EU pandemic funding of 7.2 billion euros this year, but Brussels has not yet signed the plan.EU cite Corruption problem to maintain. But the Hungarian prime minister caught his government’s ongoing confrontation with Brussels over a controversial Budapest anti-LGBT+ law, seeing it as the cause of the delay, and seeing himself as a champion of Hungarian values.
Analysts say that this position allows him to quietly succumb to Brussels’ anti-corruption demands and obtain funding, while appearing to be doing so while standing with the European Union.
“When our country is facing such strong pressure, only the common will of the people can protect us,” Orban said in a video posted on Facebook last week, vowing to stand firm, promise a referendum on this issue, and blame Brussels “abuses power”. that power”.
Government ministers worked together to support this strategy. Attorney General Judit Varga insisted that Budapest will not compromise on ideological issues. In an interview with the Financial Times last week, she said that this dispute is equivalent to a “world war” between liberals and conservatives in the EU, implying that other countries and millions of voters may be on Hungary’s side, but they cannot be free. speak out.
Controversy with Brussels’ LGBT+ Act-The Act prohibits the depiction or promotion of LGBT+ content in Hungarian schools and media, and has Stir up an uproar Observers say that the relationship between EU legislators and officials has given Orban a political opportunity.
Next spring’s election is expected to be the fiercest election since Orbán and his right-wing Fidesz party came to power in 2010, after six opposition parties agreed for the first time to unite a candidate, thereby placing the group level and the ruling party on Together. Polls.
A person familiar with the prime minister’s thinking, who asked not to be named, said that the more pressure Brussels puts on Budapest, the more Orban can inspire his voter base and impersonate a defender of Hungary’s interests.
The person familiar with the matter said that the prime minister did not have a political “master plan” when proposing the bill, but once he saw the commotion it caused in Brussels, he felt its potential. “This war is not planned. But if you want to fight a battle, it’s a good choice. It’s not just something you can win.”
Capucine May, a European analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft, said that Orban may insist on its position on LGBT+ law while making compromises on corruption.
She said: “Before the 2022 elections, backing down on recent LGBT laws will weaken Fidesz’s credibility on the basis of its voters.” She added that the EU “has never taken any action against social regression.” “[The delay] Is due [Hungary’s] Corruption safeguards are inadequate, not its social reforms. Orban may compromise to meet EU anti-corruption requirements. “
The government said that even without the EU’s first funding, it can fund its recovery plan. “It’s not particularly difficult,” Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas said at a press conference earlier this month. “People have a much better view of the Hungarian economy than before, so we can more easily raise these funds in the international financial market.”
Varga said that Hungary is confident that it will eventually receive 1 billion euros in funding. According to EU regulations, this funding accounts for 13% of the country’s recovery funding this year, but it will launch the program it intends to fund anyway.
“We calculated that this year’s growth rate is 6.3%, which gives us enough confidence that this will not become an unbearable burden,” she said, citing official government data.
The Ministry of Finance declined to comment. It is not clear whether bonds or loans need to be issued to fill the gap.
Katalin Cseh, a Hungarian liberal member of the European Parliament, said that Orban used the LGBT+ dispute to cover up systemic corruption surrounding EU funding. “Obviously, this homophobic law has set off a powerful political storm,” she told the Financial Times. “But to blame [recovery plan] The strong opposition to the homosexual law is denying the existence of an extremely serious problem of corruption. “
Thousands of Hungarians participated in the annual Pride Parade in Budapest on Saturday to support LGBT+ people and protest the law.
The EU outlines its Concerns about anti-corruption safeguards In a wide-ranging EU report last week. “This does not mean that we are not opposed to the LGBTI law… but this is not the focus of the discussion,” EU Economic Commissioner Paul Gentiloni said at a press conference. “The pillars of the discussion are [country-specific recommendations on corruption]. “
Varga insists that the bill is the main issue. She said that the Brussels negotiators “made specific requests.” “Our recovery fund negotiating partners felt the ideological pressure from the LGBTQ lobby… We received their documents and they explained this in simple language.”
She added: “Ideological factors emerged in the talks… A powerful force is trying to overwhelm the government.”
However, observers warn that Budapest has already Burnt bridge With its international partners.
Peter Kreko, director of the political capital of the Hungarian think tank, said that the Hungarian prime minister is likely to win this political game and possibly win next year’s elections, but he added: “He has to consume most of his diplomatic support to get there. The facts show that this is an unstable situation for Orban.”
Cech, a member of the European Parliament, said: “Orban wants the EU to issue cash, and is not willing to compromise to harm the interests of Hungary as a whole.”
Additional reporting by Sam Fleming in Brussels