Orbán accused of "blackmail" over threats to veto EU budget and coronavirus relief package

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EU leaders will meet in Brussels Friday to map out the bloc's seven-year budget and conditions for a €750 billion coronavirus rescue package, the largest in the bloc's history. Some member states have insisted that distribution of EU funds be tied to rule of law conditions, but unanimity is required to pass the measures, giving Hungary veto power. 

The Fidesz-led Parliament's resolution also states that Article 7 proceedings against Hungary and Poland, launched over rule of law breaches, be closed as a condition for Hungary supporting the budget and relief package. Hungary's threats to block the measures prompted some politicians to accuse Orbán of "blackmail".

Speaking at a debate on the resolution on Tuesday, House Speaker László Kövér said that "[EU leaders] want to link the disbursement of money...to the political demands of the EU's increasingly aggressive and destructive globalist, pro-immigration, anti-national, anti-traditional political elites." 

The resolution also states that wealthy member states should not receive more financial support than poorer ones, and takes aim at NGOs, declaring that "political parties and political organizations disguised as civilians should not be eligible for EU funding".

In addition to rule of law conditions, the government also opposes the proportionality of resource distribution under the EU plan. Previously, EU funds were distributed based on the wealth of the member states, with poorer ones receiving more support. Under this model, Hungary would have received 7 percent of the budget, but under new plans which take into account pandemic-induced indebtedness and unemployment, Hungary would receive only 2.5 percent.

Green MEP Daniel Freund (Germany) called Hungary's position "blackmail", and said that Orbán was "taking the entire corona response hostage".

Orbán's position is certain to cause major debate as European leaders negotiate the terms of the budget. Germany, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, has emphasized its commitment to making rule of law criteria a central component of the EU's budget plan.

Orbán and Karácsony most-liked politicians, but Karácsony says he won't run for PM in 2022

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony are the most-liked Hungarian politicians, according to a recent poll conducted by the Publicus Institute commissioned by the liberal newspaper Népszava.

Karácsony's popularity, and the perception that he is Orbán's strongest potential challenger for prime minister, has led some to compare him to Warsaw's mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who was narrowly defeated Sunday  by conservative incumbent Andrzej Duda in Poland's presidential election.

In an interview with Balkan Insight, Karácsony said that he is "not planning to run as candidate of the joint opposition" to face Orbán in 2022, but that he hopes other opposition mayors elected in 2019 municipal elections will "take on the responsibility".

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony.Fotó: botost/444.hu

Voters want to see new faces emerge in the political opposition, according to the Publicus poll, and believe that recently-elected opposition mayors have the best chance of filling leadership roles: 46 percent of those polled said new politicians on the national level could come from local governments.

Opposition voters continue to overwhelmingly support the opposition parties running on a common list against Fidesz, and believe that fielding a single opposition candidate in each voting district is the best chance for defeating the ruling parties. 

Still, Fidesz retains a commanding lead in voters' party preference: 51 percent of those polled support Fidesz, while 14 percent support DK, 11 percent MSZP, 9 percent Momentum and 7 percent Jobbik. Politics Can Be Different (LMP), the Two-Tailed Dog Party and the Mi Hazánk Movement each measured 2 percent support.

New travel restrictions go into effect, confusion over criteria

New travel restrictions went into effect on Wednesday for citizens of foreign countries wishing to travel to Hungary. Countries are classified into green, yellow and red categories which, according to the government, is based on the number of active coronavirus cases in a given country.

But an examination of the categories reveals contradictions in the method of classification.

Citizens of green countries may enter Hungary freely regardless of citizenship. The majority of EU countries received a green classification, including Croatia, which has registered more than 1,000 new cases in the last two weeks and on Saturday broke its daily record for new cases since the start of the pandemic.

Fotó: www.koronavirus.gov.hu

Citizens of yellow countries, classified as "less severely affected", may enter Hungary after undergoing a medical examination and must go into quarantine for two weeks unless they can supply two negative coronavirus tests taken within five days. Yellow countries include Serbia, Bulgaria, Portugal, Sweden, Romania, the United Kingdom, Norway, Russia, Japan, China and the United States.

Serbia and Romania have in recent days broken their previous records for new daily cases and daily deaths. The total number of active cases in Romania has surpassed levels from April and May, at the previous peak of the virus in Europe, and according to Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić, hospitals in his country are full. Vučić announced last week that a stay-at-home order would go into effect, but retracted the order after a massive wave of protests swept several Serbian cities.

The United States also received a yellow classification despite being the world leader both in coronavirus cases and deaths. 

Canada, Australia and New Zealand received a red classification despite recording exponentially lower new cases in recent weeks than many yellow countries. Citizens of red countries may not enter Hungary under any circumstances. Ukraine, several Balkan countries, and nearly every country in Asia and Africa with the exception of South Korea, Japan and China are classified as red countries.

László Bogdán, well-known Roma activist and mayor, found dead

László Bogdán, a prominent politician and Roma activist, passed away on Monday at the age of 46. 

Bogdán was the mayor of Cserdi, a village in Baranya county in southwest Hungary, and was known across the country for transforming the Roma-majority village from a community with high unemployment and crime into a national success story.

Independent mayor of Cserdi László Bogdán.Fotó: Balogh Zoltán/MTI/MTVA

Bogdán was found inside the town's processing plant, and unconfirmed reports suggest he committed suicide. An investigation into his death is ongoing.

During his 14 year tenure as mayor, Bogdán led several initiatives which placed the small village on the national radar. A community gardening program he launched donated its surplus produce to people in need around Hungary. He also initiated a controversial crime prevention program which included arranging prison visits with local youth, and erected an imposing Holocaust memorial in the center of town. 

In 2017, with the support of Cserdi residents, Bogdán offered to host refugee families in the village after an inn-keeper in the Tolna county town of Őcsény, under attack from panicked locals, was forced to revoke his offer to provide the refugees accommodation.

Bogdán was a controversial figure with a charismatic and sometimes divisive way of speaking that gained him many fans as well as critics. His efforts in the village became known as the "Cserdi miracle", and he was presented the Raoul Wallenberg Award in January for his efforts to promote co-existence and combat prejudice.

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