EU Funding Pressure Must Weaken Orban, Top Czech Lawmaker Says

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union must wield its financial leverage over Hungary by withholding billions in funding as a way to whittle away support for Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a top Czech lawmaker said.

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Marketa Pekarova Adamova, the speaker of the Czech Republic’s lower house of parliament, urged the EU to follow through with its threat to halt funding over concerns with corruption and democratic backsliding. Hungary is approaching a “breaking point” as Orban pursues aims that conflict with the EU values, she said in an interview.

“Only when Hungarians feel the negative impact of Orban’s bad governance in their daily lives will even a big portion of his current supporters perhaps run out of patience,” Pekarova Adamova said in an interview in Prague on Friday.

The comments make the lawmaker the highest-level official to take a hard public line against Orban in the Czech Republic, which holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency. Pekarova Adamova’s conservative TOP-09, part of Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s governing coalition, is also in the EU-wide European People’s Party, the former home of Orban’s increasingly far-right Fidesz.

Orban’s government is taking measures to meet a year-end deadline to access the much-needed recovery funds. Earlier this month, it tapped a fraud specialist at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP to head a new anti-graft agency, a central part of the government’s pledge to meet EU demands.

But Pekarova Adamova’s comments signal little appetite to ease pressure on Orban as member states approach a decision on funding next month. She also slammed him for taking a soft position on Russia as it wages war in Ukraine, using its veto powers to dilute EU sanctions.

Deepening economic hardship was bound to weaken voter support for Orban’s party, she said. The threat of losing EU funds and inflation at 21% has roiled the Hungarian currency and government bonds this year.

“We are certainly approaching a breaking point, and it largely depends on the Hungarian society how it will respond,” Pekarova Adamova said, warning of the spread of far-right politics. “It’s obviously risky and it may not end well, I’m aware of that. But it would be very bad if this contagion spread to other countries.”

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