Orban vs Orban: Romania defends EU after Hungary-Poland veto

Bucharest (AFP) –


Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban distanced himself from his nationalist Hungarian namesake and counterpart Viktor Orban on Thursday after Hungary and Poland vetoed the EU budget and coronavirus rescue plan.

"Blocking the adoption of a decision on the recovery plan negatively affects the whole EU, including the citizens of Hungary and Poland," Orban told AFP in an exclusive interview when asked whether he had a message for Hungary's Orban.

Hungary and Poland, both accused by Brussels of rolling back democratic freedoms, are opposed to the EU's plans to tie funding to criteria on rule of law.

On Monday, the two countries blocked EU's long-term budget and coronavirus rescue -- a 1.8 trillion euro ($2.1 trillion) package -- and plunged the bloc into political crisis.

Slovenia has also voiced opposition to the concept of a rule-of-law mechanism being included in the deal.

"It's in everyone's interest, including every Hungarian citizen, that the recovery plan is adopted as soon as possible, because every Hungarian will benefit, along with every citizen of other countries," Orban said.

- 'Guarantee for taxpayers' -

Since joining the EU in 2007, Romania has received 56 billion euros in cohesion funds.

Pledging to improve the use of such funds, Orban indicated that billions of euros would be devoted in coming years to the construction of three regional hospitals, crucial for a country with dilapidated infrastructure and which has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Although confident that "a deal will ultimately be reached", Orban rejected the arguments of his counterparts in Budapest and Warsaw, stressing that "respect for rule of law standards is a guarantee for every taxpayer that money will be spent correctly, in the public interest."

Poland is under an EU investigative procedure over its efforts to trim the independence of the judiciary, as is Hungary for an erosion of democratic norms, such as press freedom, under Viktor Orban's rule.

The Romanian prime minister refused to say whether his National Liberal Party (PNL) would support a possible exclusion of Viktor Orban's Fidesz party from the continent-wide European People's Party (EPP) political grouping that they both belong to.

"I do not think such a situation can arise," Ludovic Orban said.

- 'The good Orban' -

Romania had itself previously been in Brussels' crosshairs between 2017 and 2019 when the previous government, led by the left-wing Social Democrats (PSD), launched a controversial reform of the justice system.

But those days are just a bad memory now, according to Orban, who said Romania has "changed radically" since the liberals took power in November 2019.

"Here in Romania we did our homework and now there really is rule of law," he said.

Asked about the confusion generated by his sharing a last name with Hungary's Viktor Orban, he replied that people should "judge us by what we do."

"There are some who call me 'the good Orban'," he joked.

"We should be judged by our decisions... and our attitude within the EU which, I think, should be one of constantly supporting the EU's unity", he said.