Hungarian Finance Minister Revives Debate Over EU Membership
(Bloomberg) -- Hungary’s membership in the European Union may be assessed in a new light once the country becomes a net contributor to the bloc’s budget toward the end of the decade, Finance Minister Mihaly Varga said.
The comments, made by one of the most moderate voices in Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s cabinet, revived concerns that an increasingly bellicose relationship with the EU may eventually lead Hungary to leave the bloc.
They also underscore the intensifying pressure put on the government in Budapest as the EU considers cutting off funds over accusations that it’s undermining democratic values.
“If there was such a question in 2021, I’d be among those who’d vote yes,” to EU membership, Varga told ATV.hu news website in an interview published on Monday. “But by the end of the decade, when according to our calculations we’d become net payers in the EU, the question may be cast in a new perspective, especially if the attacks by Brussels over values become sustained.”
The issue is likely to be a key theme in next year’s parliamentary election, the most closely fought since Orban’s return to power in 2010. The premier is facing a diverse opposition alliance that’s united for the first time by a common objective to oust Orban, roll back his power consolidation and restore ties within the EU.
Unlike Britain, which became the first country to crash out of the EU, Hungary has been among the biggest recipients of EU funds per capita since the country joined the bloc in 2004 along with nine other mostly formerly communist nations.
In addition to the prosperity the funds have fueled, voters widely back membership because it affords citizens passport-free travel within the bloc and the ability to work in any of the 26 other member states.
While Orban has repeatedly said that he has no intention to take Hungary out of the EU, it has remained a subject of speculation as Orban’s increasingly authoritarian behavior and the EU’s growing impatience dominate summits in Brussels.
At the end of last year, Hungary, along with Poland, threatened to veto the 2021-2027 EU budget over concern that newly introduced rule-of-law safeguards may lead Brussels to cut off funding. The two countries ultimately backed down after agreeing with peers to launch a legal challenge at the EU’s top court, a ruling that’s expected later this year.
In June, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte confronted Orban at a summit in Brussels, telling him that his country had “no business being in the European Union any more” after the Hungarian leader approved a law that’s widely seen as stepping up a crackdown against the LGBTQ community.
Currently Hungary is fighting the EU’s executive over its decision to postpone approval of its national plan to tap the bloc’s pandemic recovery fund.
The European Commission has cited corruption concerns as well as threats to the independence of the judiciary for holding back up to 7.2 billion euros ($8.6 billion) in funding. Orban has alleged that Hungary’s share of the money was being withheld over his targeting of LGBTQ rights, which he has cast as a bid to protect children.
The government is ready to pre-finance the pandemic funding out of its budget this year and even in 2022 if necessary, according to Varga, who said the EU executive was pursuing “political charges” against Hungary.
“The country doesn’t have time for this back-and-forth, that’s why we’re going to launch the national plan from our own resources,” Varga said, according to ATV.hu.
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