Viktor Orban feels an opportunity in the LGBT + line in Hungary with Brussels
With less than a year before the elections, Viktor Orban is not ready to let 1 billion euros come between him and his reputation as a strong man against the EU to defend the interests of his country.
Hungary expected to receive the sum this year as the first tranche of € 7.2 billion in pandemic funding from the EU, but Brussels has yet to approve the package. The EU cites corruption issues for the heist. But the Hungarian prime minister has seized on his government’s continuing stalemate with Brussels over a controversial Budapest anti-LGBT + law, presenting it as the cause of the delay and himself as the champion of Hungarian values.
The position could allow him to quietly bow to Brussels’ anti-corruption demands and access funding while appearing to have done so while standing up to the bloc, analysts said.
“When the pressure on our country is so strong, only the shared will of the people can protect us,” Orban said in a video posted to Facebook last week, vowing to stand firm, promising a referendum on the issue and accusing Brussels of ‘”an abuse of power”.
Government ministers have endorsed the strategy. Justice Minister Judit Varga insisted Budapest would not give in on ideological issues. In an interview with the Financial Times last week, she said the dispute amounted to a “war of the worlds” between the EU’s liberals and conservatives, suggesting that other countries and millions of voters joined forces. probably sided with Hungary but were not free to say so.
Valdis Dombrovskis, vice-president of the European Commission, said on Monday that Brussels had offered to extend the deadline for assessing Hungary’s stimulus package to September 30. The extension will require approval from Budapest, said Dombrovskis, speaking after a video conference between EU finance ministers.
The dispute with Brussels over the LGBT + bill – which bans portraying or promoting LGBT + content in Hungarian schools and media and has sparked an uproar among lawmakers and EU officials – gave Orban a political opportunity, observers say.
Next spring’s elections are expected to be the most contested since Orban and his right-wing Fidesz took power in 2010, after six opposition parties agreed to unite behind a candidate for the first time, bringing back the group at the same level as the ruling party in the polls.
A person familiar with the thinking of the prime minister, who asked not to be named, said the more pressure Brussels was on Budapest, the more Orban could galvanize his electoral base and pose as a defender of Hungarian interests.
The prime minister did not have a political “blueprint” when he tabled the bill, but once he saw the uproar he sparked in Brussels, he felt his potential, the Prime Minister said. anybody. “This war was not planned. But if you want to have a battle, it’s a good battle. It is more than winnable.
Orban was likely to maintain his stance on LGBT + law while compromising on corruption issues, said Capucine May, analyst for Europe at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft.
“Going back on the recent LGBT law would undermine Fidesz’s credibility with its constituent base ahead of the 2022 elections,” she said. The EU “has never taken any action in response to the social setback,” she added. “[The delay] is due to [Hungary’s] inadequate guarantees of corruption rather than its social reforms. Orban will likely compromise to meet EU anti-corruption demands.
The government says it can finance its stimulus packages even without the first tranche of EU money. “It’s not particularly difficult,” Orban chief of staff Gergely Gulyas said during a press briefing earlier this month. “The Hungarian economy is viewed much more favorably than before, so we can raise these funds on the international financial markets much more easily.”
Varga said Hungary was confident it would eventually receive the € 1 billion funding tranche, which includes 13% of the stimulus funding the country requested this year, in line with EU rules, but that programs it was supposed to fund would be launched anyway.
“We are calculating growth of 6.3% this year, which gives us great confidence that it will not be an unbearable burden,” she said, citing official government data.
The finance ministry declined to comment. It is not clear whether a bond issue or a loan would be required to cover the deficit.
Katalin Cseh, a liberal Hungarian member of the European Parliament, said that Orban had used the LGBT + dispute to mask the problem of systemic corruption around the disbursement of EU funds. “It is clear that this homophobic law has unleashed a powerful political storm,” she told the FT. “But to blame the flaws of the [recovery plan] on the backlash of the homophobic law, it is to deny the extremely serious corruption problems that exist.
On Saturday, thousands of Hungarians joined the annual pride march in Budapest in support of LGBT + people and to protest against the law.
The EU raised concerns about anti-corruption safeguards in a comprehensive EU report last week. “That doesn’t mean we don’t disapprove of LGBTI law. . . but this is not the mainstay of the discussion, ”European Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said during a press briefing. “The pillars of the discussion are the [country-specific recommendations on corruption]. “
Varga insisted that the bill was the main problem. Brussels negotiators “are making specific demands”, she said. “Our stimulus fund negotiating partners are feeling the ideological pressure of the LGBTQ lobby. . . We have received documents from them in which they state this in clear terms.
She added: “An ideological element has emerged in the talks. . . Great forces are working to dominate the government.
However, observers have warned that by using tensions with the EU for domestic political ends, Budapest has cut ties with its international partners.
Peter Kreko, director of the Hungarian think tank Political Capital, said the Hungarian prime minister was likely to win this political game and potentially next year’s elections, but added: “The fact that he had to burn the much of his diplomatic support to get there indicates this is a precarious situation for Orban.
Cseh, the Member of the European Parliament, said: “Orban expects the EU to distribute the money and does not want to compromise at all to the detriment of Hungary as a whole.”
Additional reporting by Sam Fleming in Brussels