EU row: Orban accuses Brussels of ‘punishing’ Hungary for election result it doesn’t like

Hungary: Viktor Orban votes in election amid pro-Ukraine protests

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The European Commission started a new disciplinary procedure against Hungary in a step that could lead to freezing funding for Prime Minister Viktor Orban for undercutting liberal democratic rights. Bracing for more tensions with the self-styled “illiberal” crusader, few in the EU offered their congratulations after MR Orban scored a fourth landslide win in national elections.

His win came in spite of years of EU criticism that he was undercutting liberal democratic rights and accusations that he was using funds from the bloc to enrich his associates.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs last week: “We’ve been very clear the issue is corruption.

“We will now send a letter of formal notification to start the conditionality mechanism.”

But Mr Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas told state news agency MTI that the ruling Fidesz party got almost 2.9 million votes in elections on Sunday which gave it a very strong mandate.

He accused Brussels of “punishing” the Hungarian electorate for their political preferences.

Mr Gulyas said the Commission “must also accept the basic rules of democracy” and return to common sense and dialogue which the Hungarian government has always been open to.

The Hungarian forint fell as uncertainty grew over Hungary’s access to billions of euros of EU funds.

It would take months before the Commission finalises internal work on the matter and puts it forward to the EU’s national leaders for a decision, an official told Reuters.

It is the first time that the EU is trying its new tool, designed to prevent the misuse of EU budget funds.

It was agreed by all 27 EU leaders in late 2020, despite reluctance from Mr Orban and his nationalist allies ruling in Poland.

EU affairs ministers will meet in Luxembourg today for the General Affairs Council where they will discuss the issue for the first time since Ms von der Leyen’s announcement.

Richer EU countries that contribute to the bloc’s joint coffers – of which Warsaw and Budapest are net beneficiaries – have refused to keep on paying without stronger safeguards to ensure their money does not benefit those undercutting democracy.

One diplomat from an unnamed western EU country told Politico: “Because this is the first time doing this, they need to get it right.

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“This is going to set the tone for the future.”

In power since 2010, Mr Orban has tightened the noose around media, academics and NGOs, and restricted the freedoms of migrants and gay people.

Rule of law rows have emerged as an existential threat to the EU, its cohesion rattled from within by Orban, as the bloc faces challenges ranging from COVID recovery and climate change to fraught ties with China and Russia, which is waging war on Ukraine.

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