EU Floats More Delays to Hungary’s Funding as LGBTQ Row Deepens

The European Commission is withholding approval of Hungary’s recovery plan over what it says are insufficient safeguards against corruption, but Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government says the bloc is improperly using the process to punish it for the country’s new LGBTQ law.

EU finance ministers approved national pandemic stimulus plans from a dozen members on Tuesday, but Hungary was not among them. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive, said on Monday it needed more time to decide whether to back it.

“If the assessment process will be somewhat longer, indeed we may agree with the Hungarian authorities that there is a request for an extension of the assessment deadline,” EU Economy and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said at a briefing in Brussels. Such a move would postpone the assessment deadline by two months.

The commission raised red flags about Hungary’s plan after Orban’s government approved a law last month that bans making content deemed to be “promoting homosexuality” available to minors. It’s planning to send Hungary a so-called letter of formal notice, a last step before a suit at the EU’s Court of Justice, people familiar with the matter said last week.

In a resolution last week, the European Parliament called on the bloc to stop the flow of money to Hungary, whose part of the recovery package amounts to 7.2 billion euros ($8.5 billion) in EU grants. The lawmakers said the LGBTQ law is the latest in a string of legislation that breaches the EU’s fundamental values.

The commission has said its concerns about Hungary’s stimulus plan are related to long-standing disputes over corruption, the rule of law and the business environment, and it may not be able to tie the pandemic recovery plan to the LGBTQ law specifically.

“I’m not saying we don’t disapprove of the LGBTQ law but I’m saying this is not the pillar of the discussion,” EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said Monday.

But Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga said last week on Facebook that the new requests “are obviously related” to the LGBTQ law.

In a sign of recognition that Hungary may not be able to tap billions of euros in EU recovery funds quickly, Finance Minister Mihaly Varga has said the government was taking additional stimulus steps to meet its economic growth target for this year, which he said would be met even if Hungary didn’t receive EU financing this year.

Orban has used the LGBTQ law to sow division among a united opposition and to fire up his conservative voters ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections, which are the most closely fought in more than a decade.

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