Hungary PM insists rule of law must be separated from EU budget

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary still cannot accept a clause on respecting the rule of law attached to the European Union’s budget and coronavirus recovery fund, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday, adding that the issues should be dealt with separately.

He rejected a proposed explanatory declaration attached to the regulations, which prompted a senior Polish government member to say on Thursday that Poland might accept the package.

Hungary and Poland have blocked the EU’s seven-year budget and its post-crisis development fund for weeks, holding up 1.85 trillion euros ($2.25 trillion) worth of funds from reaching member states, some hurting for cash amid an economic crisis.

“For us this solution, attaching some statement like a reminder on a sticky note attached on a piece of paper, it won’t work,” Orban told public radio. “Hungary insists that these two things should be separated.”

Budapest and Warsaw, which have been criticised for years for perceived backsliding on democratic standards, have said they would act and vote together on the rule of law issue, and Orban said he would stick to that agreement.

He said there was no rush to get an agreement on the EU budget this year, adding if the EU does not have an agreement by January, it will have one later.

“Leave the legal status quo unchanged and everything will go smoothly and quickly,” he said.

Hungarians are deeply divided, with about half of voters backing Orban’s interpretation that the EU wants to force lenient immigration regulations on Budapest, according to a poll by think-tank Median earlier this week.

Only about a third blame the crisis on Hungary’s shortfalls on the rule of law, Median said. The same poll showed 85% still backed EU membership.

Critics say Orban, who has campaigned on a nationalist, anti-immigration platform, has systematically eroded democratic rights during his decade in power, weakening the independence of media, education, science, and cracking down on non-government organisations.

The Hungarian government has denied those charges.

Reporting by Marton Dunai and Krisztina Than; Editing by Sam Holmes and Alex Richardson

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