EU seeks two-month delay in talks on Hungary recovery plan -PM

FILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses the media as he arrives on the first day of the European Union summit at The European Council Building in Brussels, Belgium June 24, 2021. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The European Union is seeking a two-month delay in talks on Hungary's pandemic recovery plan, with funding likely to be delayed over contested issues as part of an "ideological war" with Brussels, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.

A European Commission spokesperson said on Thursday that Hungary's recovery plan, which would see it get 7.2 billion euros ($8.47 billion) in grants from the EU, was still under evaluation and it was unclear what the next steps in the process were.

The Commission evaluation and infringement steps launched against Hungary over a law the EU says discriminates against the LGBT community, were two separate processes although they did run in parallel, the spokesperson said.

Orban told public radio Hungary was nearing an agreement with the Commission on the economics of its recovery plan, blaming the delay entirely on a row over the LGBT legislation, which has been heavily criticised by EU leaders.

"The way I see it now is that the EU will seek a two-month delay in the resumption of talks (over the recovery plan), but this calls into question the very essence of the fund," Orban said.

He said Hungary would start financing the same projects partially approved by Brussels from its national budget to avoid any further delays in access to the funds.

"Whether the money arrives from Brussels or not, we will pay out these funds from the Hungarian budget," Orban said.

Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said on Tuesday that the European Commission would not approve Hungary's recovery plan until it carries out judicial reform and guarantees that corruption cases are investigated.

Reynders cited systemic problems with the rule of law in Hungary, adding that the Commission was ready to use all tools to protect democracy, including the suspension of EU funds.

"Corruption is often cited as an issue, but we were already close to an agreement," Orban said. "All of a sudden, after approving the law about the protection of children, we became very corrupt. This is obviously a cover story, a pretext."

The measures, which have caused anxiety in the LGBT community, ban the use of materials seen as promoting homosexuality and gender change at schools.

($1 = 0.8496 euros)

(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Tomasz Janowski)

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