Media say EU money to be taken from Budapest, government says ‘fake news’

Mayor of Budapest Gergely Karacsony addresses demonstrators

Mayor of Budapest Gergely Karacsony addresses demonstrators protesting against a planned new law on culture proposed by the government in central Budapest, Hungary, 09 December 2019. [EPA-EFE/Zoltan Mathe]

Hungarian news website Népszava has published what it said were leaked documents that suggest the government’s proposal for spending EU money in 2021-27 would block investment in Budapest, the country’s capital run by the opposition since October. The government said it was ‘fake news’.

The Commission still has to approve the plans drafted by Viktor Orban’s government, which relate to the European Structural and Investment Funds spending for the next programming period.

Budapest’s green mayor, Gergely Karácsony, told EURACTIV he finds the government’s plan “unacceptable as it clearly aims at cutting off Budapest from much-needed EU-funds”. He also pointed to research showing that the country’s overall development is closely linked to that of Budapest.

The mayor confirmed that he has received the same leaked documents like the ones reported in the press on Monday (13 January).

Hungary’s opposition scored its biggest election victory in a decade in October 2019, when liberal challenger Karácsony ousted the ruling-party incumbent István Tarlós as mayor of Budapest and opposition parties made gains in other major cities as well.

Hungary's opposition wins Budapest election, makes gains in other cities

Hungary’s opposition scored its biggest election victory in a decade on Sunday (13 October) when liberal challenger Gergely Karácsony ousted ruling-party incumbent Istvan Tarlos as mayor of Budapest and opposition parties made gains in other major cities as well.

However, the government immediately refuted the report.

“The news is completely unfounded,” said Balázs Fürjes, state secretary for Budapest’s development. No decision has yet been made on the EU budget for 2021-2027, or on its structure and rules for financial use, Fürjes told the state news agency MTI, calling the article “fake news.”

The Ministry for innovation and technology also denied plans to keep the capital EU on a short financial leash.

“As in the past, Budapest will continue to receive grants within the limits set by the bureaucrats in Brussels, according to the terms and conditions set by them,” said the ministry statement. “It is, in fact, Brussels that intends to take away resources from Hungary by the planned, unfair reduction of the Cohesion Fund.”

Hungarian MEP Klára Dobrev (S&D), vice president of the European Parliament, wrote in a Facebook post she had reached out to the Commission President Ursua von der Layen to ensure that the capital and other big cities led by the opposition will continue to receive EU support.

Ursula von der Leyen-hez fordultam, lesz uniós pénz Budapestnek!A Népszava információi szerint Orbán Viktor cinikus…

Geplaatst door Dobrev Klára op Maandag 13 januari 2020

Later on Monday, the innovation ministry released slides similar to the leaked documents but said they only showed less developed regions and therefore cannot cover Budapest. However, the resolution of the screenshots and different labelling of graphs makes direct comparison difficult.

“By taking political revenge on the opposition-led capital city and its two million residents, the government is also hurting the interest of the whole country,” said mayor Karácsony.

“That said, we do not believe that this is the final state of play,” he added. “We will immediately start discussions with the European Commission, as well as with the Hungarian government, to protect the interests of Budapest and thereby the country as a whole.”

Opposition mayors from the four Visegrád group capitals met in Budapest on 16 December, showing a united front against the rise of “populists [who] have dominated the political landscape” in their countries.

The leaders of Bratislava, Budapest, Prague and Warsaw promised to join forces and tackle challenges posed by their governments, jointly lobby for directly accessible EU-funds and fight together against climate change and inequality.

The mayors, who call their platform the “Pact of Free Cities”, plan to send a letter to Commission President von der Leyen and “seek support from a broad range of cities across Europe. In addition, we will also be meeting with key EU-officials in the weeks ahead,” Karácsony told EURACTIV.

“We firmly believe that cities are key to implementing the European Commission’s Green Deal proposal and transitioning to a sustainable future.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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