EU accused of ‘political blackmail’ over funds – Macron talks fail to convince Hungary

Viktor Orban says he is fighting for ‘common sense’ at EU summit

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The Hungarian leader met with the French President in Budapest on Monday. After the meeting, Mr Macron said France was willing to “work together for Europe” with Hungary despite the countries’ political differences, striking a conciliatory note as Paris prepares to take over the European Union’s presidency.

But in response, Mr Orban said his country is “victim to political blackmail from Brussels” with regard to the withholding of the recovery funds.

The Hungarian leader said he respected the French President and backed moves by Mr Macron to make the EU more self-sufficient in defence, nuclear energy and farming.

But Paris (and the EU) and Budapest are still at odds over issues including LGBT rights, the rule of law and democratic standards.

Mr Macron wants other EU states to support the priorities he has set for France’s six-month presidency of the bloc starting in January, including better protection and control of EU borders.

The French leader said: “We have political disagreements which are well known, but we have the willingness to work together for Europe and to be loyal partners.”

Setting aside the sometimes harsh rhetoric he has aimed at the Hungarian government, Mr Macron said last week he regarded Mr Orban both as a political opponents and as a European partner.

The French leader was, however, forced to admit that Budapest would not budge on issues of rule of law before a general election in April.

He said: “There is very little progress on these issues, there is a clear Hungarian will not to make progress on these questions before the April elections.”

During a joint press conference after the meeting, Mr Orban accused Brussels of withholding recovery funds from his country because of the introduction of an anti-LGBTQ+ law by his government earlier this year.

But the French leader was forced to correct him to clarify that, in fact, the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund was being withheld due to issues related to corruption and public procurement.

Despite the seemingly conciliatory tone of the leaders’ public statements, President Macron also sent Mr Orban a message by starting his trip to Budapest by laying a wreath at the tomb of Agnes Heller, a Hungarian philosopher who opposed Mr Orban.

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He also met with leaders of the opposition alliance that is set to challenge Mr Orban in an election next year, and will attend a meeting of the Visegrad group, which includes leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Mr Orban has in the past two months received far-right leaders Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, who are candidates in France’s presidential election next year in which Mr Macron is expected to seek a second term.

Both praised Mr Orban’s opposition to immigration, and Mr Zemmour hailed his defence of “his country’s identity, sovereignty and borders.”

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