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(Bloomberg) -- Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban re-started a nationwide campaign against the European Union in a move that may hurt his efforts to access crucial funding that’s being withheld over democratic backsliding.
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Billboards went up this week across Hungary blasting the EU for purportedly trying to set up “migrant ghettos,” scrap utility subsidies and intervene in domestic politics. They also seek to rally voters against further financial and military aid to Ukraine and against efforts aimed at starting membership talks with Hungary’s eastern neighbor.
The campaign may be the latest sign of a reversal in Orban’s apparent willingness to find common ground with the EU in order to unlock more than $30 billion of funds. The bloc suspended the aid last year on concerns about the erosion of the rule of law and graft. This year, the government has passed a number of laws to try to assuage issues about the independence of the judiciary.
“The prospects of an EU-deal seem to be more distant as the Hungarian government has started a new anti-EU campaign over the weekend,” UniCredit Group economists wrote in a report on Tuesday.
They attributed this week’s weakening in the forint to receding chances of Hungary tapping EU funds. The Hungarian currency has still outperformed most of its emerging-market peers this year due to the bloc’s highest key interest rate.
Read More: EU Mulls Alternative Ukraine Aid Plan to Bypass Hungary Veto
The EU next month is due to review whether Hungary has done enough to access fresh EU funding. While Brussels and Budapest both deny that EU aid to Ukraine or membership talks with Kyiv are linked to Hungary’s funding issue, all three may come to a head at a Dec. 14-15 summit meeting, fueling speculation that negotiations on the issues may be linked.
Sentiment toward Hungary may further sour with the billboard campaign. It includes one portraying European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as a puppet of Alex Soros, the son of Hungarian-born US financier George Soros. The billboard says: “Let’s not dance to their tune!”
Alex Soros is the recently appointed chairman of his family’s main philanthropy, which Orban has criticized for funding pro-democracy groups in Hungary.
Orban’s government calls its information campaign a “national consultation.” It includes a questionnaire sent to voters, in which they are reminded that the EU is asking for more money for Kyiv at a time when it’s blocking funds earmarked for Hungary in the common budget.
“We’re not going to be drawn into a debate about a national consultation on which we haven’t been consulted,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told reporters in Brussels on Monday. It’s “not in line with the sort of practices that we use when we’re asking the public for their opinion on a specific question.”
Orban conducts such consultations regularly. They are non-binding, but help his ruling Fidesz party’s election campaigns. Hungary faces elections to the European Parliament and municipal elections in the spring.
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