Access to single market key to Hungary's EU membership - Orban

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian PM Orban attends a business conference in Budapest

By Gergely Szakacs

BUDAPEST (Reuters) -Hungary must remain a member of the European Union to ensure continued access to the bloc's single market, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.

Hungary and Poland have been at odds with Brussels over issues ranging from LGBT rights to media freedoms. In July, the executive European Commission launched legal action against both over measures it says discriminate against the gay community.

Conservative nationalist Orban said that for Hungary, a net beneficiary of EU funds, the main reason for staying in the EU was not money coming from Brussels.

He also said a debt sale this week had shown Hungary stood on solid ground financially -- the government debt agency raised the equivalent of 4.4 billion euros ($5.2 billion) in global markets, much more than expected, to help cover a likely delay in money from the EU recovery fund which is meant to help the bloc recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"If you look at the full year, we get more money from Brussels than what we pay. But if you subtract the amount of money western (companies) repatriate from the country each year, the balance is negative," Orban told public radio.

"The EU is important for us because it provides Hungary with a market ... We need to stand up for the EU and remain in it. That is why I say no matter how it creaks and crackles, we will be the among the few still in the union should it ever end."

The Commission has accused Poland and Hungary of undermining media pluralism and court independence, and has put both countries under formal EU investigation for undermining the rule of law.

Speaking in a panel discussion hosted by the City of Budapest, European Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova said the EU was a "union of values", a community built on common standards which the Commission was ready to uphold.

When disbursing funds under the next EU budget, the Commission will ensure investments "make sense" to citizens, that use of EU funding respects fundamental values, and that EU funds are protected against potential misuse and corruption or use of "the political key for distribution," she said.

"We really mean it seriously that the money will not go to the projects which do not respect fundamental rights," she added.

($1 = 0.8498 euros)

(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs, Editing by Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)

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