Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accused the EU on Friday of not approving Hungary's coronavirus recovery spending plan because of a row over LGBTQ rights.
The European Commission is responsible for handing out the bloc's pandemic recovery fund — worth up to €800 billion ($950 billion) — but has yet to approve Hungary's submission.
The Commission, which is still assessing plans submitted by Orban's government, has indicated Budapest may miss out on early backing to the value of €7.2 billion in EU grants.
"Reconstruction funds are loans that Brussels does not want to give us now because of the debate around LGBTQ policy," Orban said in an interview given to state media.
The commission is evaluating the reforms each EU member state has committed to, in exchange for their share of the recovery package.
Relations between the EU and Budapest have been tense throughout Orban's tenure, which began in 2010, and he is hoping to extend in next year's nationwide election.
While 16 member states' COVID recovery plans have been approved, evaluations are continuing on seven, including Hungary and Poland, who have been at loggerheads with Brussels over issues including LGBTQ rights, press freedoms and the countries' judicial impartiality.
In July, the European Commission launched legal action against the two member states over measures it says discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
At the time, Orban hit back at the EU, describing the legal action as a "shameful" move that amounts to "legalized hooliganism."
The Hungarian legislation bans the depiction of homosexuality and gender transition to those under the age of 18 and has sparked outrage across Europe. Critics argue the legislation intentionally conflates homosexuality with pedophilia.
Orban insists that sex education is exclusively a matter of parental choice.
Orban vows not to Brexit
Nevertheless, Orban showed his enthusiasm for Hungary's membership in the European Union on Friday, saying that if the bloc were ever to break up, his country would be among the last to leave.
Orban cited continued access to the single market as vital for the Hungarian economy, but he did take aim at the bloc over a bias towards Western economies.
"If you look at the full year, we get more money from Brussels than what we pay. But if you subtract the amount of money Western [companies] repatriate from the country each year, the balance is negative," Orban told public radio.
"The EU is important for us because it provides Hungary with a market," he said. "We need to stand up for the EU and remain in it. That is why I say no matter how it creaks and crackles, we will be the among the few still in the union should it ever end."
Hungary's government debt agency raised the equivalent of €4.4 billion ($5.2 billion) in global markets this week, far exceeding expectations. Some see that amount as at least partially tied to Hungary's membership in the 27-member bloc.
Challenger hoping to emerge
Meanwhile, the liberal mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karacsony, expressed confidence over his candidacy to challenge Orban in next year's election.
"I will win the opposition primary because I am the most suitable to build a bridge from the opposition voters to the still undecided voters," he told a group of foreign journalists in Budapest.
Karacsony, a member of the Green party, is due to face a primary election on Saturday against four other candidates from different opposition parties.
The joint opposition candidate for the parliamentary election is to be determined by two rounds of voting that are set to conclude on October 10.
The winner is then expected to challenge Orban in the spring of 2022.
jsi/sms (Reuters, dpa, AFP)