Hungary Sinks EU’s Joint Role in Biden’s Democracy Summit
(Bloomberg) -- Hungary is blocking the European Union from formally participating in U.S. President Joe Biden’s Summit for Democracy later this month because Viktor Orban, the leader of the eastern member country, wasn’t invited.
Hungary raised the issue at a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday, saying it wouldn’t back the bloc’s joint contribution to the summit because the U.S. hadn’t invited all EU nations to participate, according to officials familiar with the discussion.
Hungary has clashed with the EU for years over rule-of-law issues, ranging from freedom of the media to judicial interference. The latest roadblock comes as Orban’s government has increasingly frustrated the bloc’s attempts to reach joint positions on issues including human rights in Hong Kong to gender equality.
Divide and Conquer
Separately, Hungary was dealt a blow on Wednesday when an adviser to the EU’s top court said the bloc had the right to withhold distributions from the budget and stimulus fund to countries accused of democratic backsliding. Budapest stands to forfeit 7.2 billion euros ($8.2 billion) in recovery money from the EU.
During Wednesday’s discussion, Hungary’s diplomatic envoy to Brussels argued that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel couldn’t speak on behalf of the whole EU at the summit given there wasn’t an agreed joint position, the officials said. Spokespeople for the commission and council didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Orban’s envoy said at the meeting that Budapest’s position also applied to the EU’s participation in ongoing discussions to establish an alliance on the future of the internet, they said.
The Hungarian diplomat said the U.S. was trying to divide and conquer member states and that such attempts should feed into the bloc’s broader discussions about its strategic autonomy, according to one of the officials.
The EU was planning to contribute to the summit by bringing together various actions and policies that highlight how the bloc promotes democracy globally.
One of the people said that the EU’s legal service explained at Wednesday’s meeting that, as things stand, the EU can’t submit a written contribution to the summit given the lack of agreement between all members, and von der Leyen and Michel can’t speak as if such a common agreement existed.
The two presidents can, however, intervene at the event and repeat already established positions, the person added.
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