Eyeing EU election, Orban calls Brussels a ‘bad contemporary parody’

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban kicked off his campaign for next year’s European Parliamentary elections with harsh criticism of the bloc’s leaders on Monday, calling Brussels a “bad contemporary parody” that he said can still be fixed.

Distrust of Orban has been running high in Brussels after bitter run-ins during his 13 years in power over the rights of gay people and migrants in Hungary, as well as tightening state controls over NGOs, academics, the courts and media.

The EU has suspended the payment of billions of euros worth of funding to Hungary over rule of law concerns, complicating the nationalist leader’s efforts to drag the economy out of its longest technical recession since modern records started.

“History sometimes repeats itself. Fortunately, what was first a tragedy, is at best a comedy on the second occasion,” Orban told supporters in a speech marking the anniversary of Hungary’s failed 1956 uprising against Soviet rule.

“Moscow was a tragedy. Brussels is only a bad contemporary parody,” Orban said in a speech carried by public television, with the venue in the western town of Veszprem barred to other broadcasters.

In power since 2010, the veteran leader faces his toughest challenge with EU money in limbo, inflation running at the highest levels in the bloc and high interest rates slamming the brakes on the economy.

Orban has also drawn criticism from the U.S. and EU allies for shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a summit in China last week.

Orban’s combative tone about the EU’s rule-of-law conditions attached to releasing the funds to Hungary belied the relative optimism voiced by his top negotiator last week, who said talks on outstanding issues could end soon.

“Even if Brussels whistles, we dance to our liking. And if we do not want to, we will not dance,” Orban said, drawing applause from his supporters.

“Moscow was beyond repair, but Brussels and the EU can still be fixed,” Orban said, adding that current leaders of the bloc failed to protect Europe’s safety, freedom and wellbeing.

Economists at Wood & Company said there seemed to be no sufficient commitment by Orban’s government to solve the EU funds dispute despite an initial phase of legal changes.

“Our interpretation of the policy and political moves is that PM Orban is focused on securing the best possible result for his party in the June 2024 EU Parliament elections, and appears to be following a strategy of confrontation with the EU and the US,” they said in a note.

(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs, editing by Ed Osmond)