Hungary loses Norway Grant, and braces for referendum on homophobic law

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Hungary rebukes Oslo’s revocation of HUF 77 billion grant and promises legal action

“Hungary does not accept Norway’s position, the organization responsible for the disbursement of the Norway Grant has to be chosen with a consensus, according to the agreement between the two countries,” the Office of the Prime Minister informed Wednesday, following a statement from the Norwegian foreign ministry that stated the funds was lost for Hungary.

“Norway is violating the resources from EEA membership, so the government will take legal action", the Hungarian government said in a statement, without giving further details on the legal proceedings.

Earlier in the week, Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide issued a statement explaining why no agreement has been reached with the Hungarian government

The seven-month deadline for the government, the Norwegian Fund and the EEA Fund to agree on the implementation of the HUF 77 billion civilian part of the grant has recently expired. No deal has been reached.

“The donor countries and Hungary failed to agree on how the funding for civil society was to be administered. Therefore no funding will be provided to Hungary for the implementation of programs during the current period, and Hungary loses access to the approximately NOK 2.3 billion allocated to Hungary under the EEA and Norway Grants scheme,” the Minister wrote.

The chief of Norwegian diplomacy added that donor countries in all 15 member states concerned expect the provider of civilian aid to be independent of the government and the state.

In the statement, Ine Eriksen Søreide also mentions that since 2016 they have been trying to negotiate with the Hungarian government on how to provide subsidies to Hungary for social inclusion, health, education, transport and local development, as well as Roma integration.

The donor countries, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, have been united in the process and remain committed to the principle that the best qualified candidate must be appointed.

Despite the lack of agreement, the Hungarian government wanted to continue negotiations with Oslo, but the Norwegian foreign ministry made it clear that the grant was not delayed but lost for good.

"The resources of the Norwegian Fund for 2014-2021 are no longer available to Hungary," the Oslo Foreign Ministry confirmed Wednesday, making it clear that the grant of a total of HUF 77 billion would neither be delayed, nor temporarily jeopardized, but would be lost permanently.

The blunt statement of the Norwegian foreign affairs is significant because the Hungarian government was giving the impression that the money could still be saved.

Last Friday, the Prime Minister's Office wrote: "the Hungarian side has proposed a new deadline for the resumption of negotiations".

The animosity surrounding the distribution of the Norway Grant goes back to 2014, when Ökotárs Alapítvány (Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation) director Veronika Móra has been taken into custody by local police,

The move came after Hungary’s Office of the Prime Minister under Chancellor János Lázár falsely accused the Norway Civil Fund administrator Ökotárs of channeling funds to opposition party “Politics Can Be Different”, and calling for the suspension of payments to Hungarian NGOs.

National Election Commission gives green light to Orban’s referendum

The National Election Commission (NVB) has accepted the referendum questions submitted by Viktor Orbán in the middle of the Pegasus scandal, referred to as "child protection” by the head of government.

Thus, it will be possible to hold a referendum on all five issues. The questions are:

  • Do you support the organization of sexual orientation sessions for minor children in public education without parental consent?
  • Do you support the promotion of gender reassignment treatments for minor children?
  • Do you support the availability of gender reassignment treatments for minor children?
  • Do you support the unrestricted presentation of sexual media content to minors that affects their development?
  • Do you support the display of gender-reassignment media content to minor children?

On July 21, Orbán announced that he would initiate a so-called “child protection" referendum, following that, as he put it "Brussels clearly attacked Hungary over the child protection law in recent weeks."

Orbán referred to a so-called “anti-pedophile” law passed with homophobic modifiers in which the government banned the "promotion or portrayal of homosexuality."

The European Commission has launched infringement proceedings against Hungary in connection with the law, arguing that it restricts the right to free speech, while the government is unable to explain why and how LGBTQ content adversely affects children's development.

Orbán interprets the Commission’s move as an attack and tries to create legitimacy for the already adopted law through a referendum. The Prime Minister has already stated that it was no problem if the referendum would turn out as not valid.

At the same time, the NVB refused to discuss Gergely Karácsony's referendum questions submitted the very same day.

The mayor of Budapest wanted to ask questions about free covid tests, the Fudan University, and the privatization of the operation of the freeway network, among others.

Hungarian healthcare workers demonstrate for better conditions and bigger salaries

Hungarian healthcare workers - left out from a recent general wage increase reserved for doctors - staged a demonstration on Saturday, demanding the restoration of their legal status as civil servants, in the Heroes' Square in Budapest, organized by the Hungarian Chamber of Health Professionals (MESZK).

Zoltán Balogh, the president of the chamber, said that the government had “slapped them in the face” with the new law on healthcare status, which came into force in March in the midst of the third wave of the pandemic in Hungary.

As a result of the new law, thousands of healthcare employees quit their jobs due to amendments to their contracts.

The new law gave doctors a big rise in salaries but only with strict conditions. The new law grants a 120% salary increase to doctors in three steps, reaching its maximum in January 2023.

The law also criminalizes handouts offered as bribes and sets a limit on the value of non-cash gifts from patients to doctors at five percent of the monthly minimum wage. This practice has been widespread in Hungary for decades. But nurses were left out of the package.

From the very start, the MESZK was against the new regulation, Balogh recalled, adding that during the preparation of the law, the position and proposals of the experts were not accepted: “There were no substantive consultation on the legal material, in which - serious contradictions and injustices were observed.”

As a result, four thousand health workers, including three thousand professionals, did not sign their new contract, which is a tremendous loss for the Hungarian healthcare system.

The main demands of the demonstrators were the restoration of the civil service status of health professionals, and a minimum of 30 percent wage increase, starting from September 1.

“Priority should be given to improving the living and working conditions of primary healthcare workers,” he stressed.

Gyula Kincses, President of the Hungarian Medical Chamber (MOK), who spoke at the event assured healthcare workers of their support and said that it was outright “impossible to cure without specialists.”

“The coronavirus epidemic has proven that even if there is available medical equipment, but there is no proper human care, then our mortality data will be as it is,” he said. He hinted at the more than 30,000 victims of the pandemic in Hungary, one of the worst of the world per capita.

Miklós Kásler, the minister in charge of healthcare, sent a letter to the demonstration, acknowledging the efforts and the work of the specialists during the epidemic, adding that in the future, his office would continue to count on the opinion of the chamber.

But participants of the demo just booed and shouted, demanding the resignation of Kásler.

The event was joined by several health professional and non-governmental organizations as well as trade unions, and many opposition party leaders.

F1 champions criticize Hungary’s homophobic law

“To all in this beautiful country Hungary. Ahead of the Grand Prix this weekend, I want to share my support for those affected by the government’s anti-LGBBTQ+ law. It is unacceptable, cowardly and misguiding for those in power suggest such a law. Everyone deserves to have the freedom to be themselves, no matter who they love or how they identify. I urge the people of Hungary to vote in the referendum to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ community, they need our support more than ever. Please show love for those around you because love will always win. Sending you positivity.”

Lewis Hamilton sent a message of support to the Hungarian LGBTQ community in an Instagram story, before the Hungarian Grand Prix last weekend.

A day later, his competitor, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel went to the Hungaroring racetrack in a rainbow mask and rainbow t-shirt.

The German Formula One driver gave his opinion on the Hungarian homophobic law on Friday, making a clear comment at a press conference before the Hungarian Grand Prix:

“Everyone should be free to choose what they want to do with their lives, that would be the point. I find it depressing that a country in the European Union passes such a law. ”

Hungarian minister of justice Judit Varga reacted quickly to the critic on her Facebook page.

“The protection of Hungarian children remains the task of Hungarian parents and not of foreign racing drivers,” she said.

“I myself learned the rule of the road from textbooks and not by following the media,” she added.

“Let me recommend Lewis Hamilton to read the Hungarian Child Protection Act before saying nonsense. Let the cobbler stick to his last and F1 driver to his race. Good luck with the Hungaroring race!,” Varga concluded.

Finally, neither Vettel, nor Hamilton won the race, but French driver Esteban Ocon from Alpine won the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday, his first Formula I race win, while Hamilton took second place in a dramatic race that started twice due to crashing in wet conditions.

  • Geza Molnar, an international correspondent reporting from Budapest over the last two decades, is taking over Insight Hungary from August.
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