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Hungary won't back down and change LGBTQ+ and asylum policies criticized by EU, minister says

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a press conference with Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico at the Carmelite Monastery in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary's government will not change policies the European Union believes infringe on LGBTQ+ rights and those of asylum seekers, even if doing so would unfreeze billions in funding the bloc has withheld from Budapest, a government minister said Thursday.

The EU has frozen funding to Hungary over concerns its right-wing nationalist government has trampled on minority rights and academic freedoms, failed to rein in official corruption and undermined democratic values.

The release of those funds has been tied to Hungary carrying out reforms to bring it into line with the EU's democratic standards.

Gergely Gulyas, chief of staff to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, told a news conference on Thursday there were “limits” to reaching an agreement with the bloc's executive, since modifying policies on LGBTQ+ and asylum rights would contradict the will of Hungarian voters.

“The Hungarian government is willing to reach an agreement with the Commission, but in cases where people have expressed a clear opinion, it would be undemocratic and unacceptable,” Gulyas said in Budapest, adding that there are “red lines” when it comes to reforms Hungary is willing to make.

“For Hungary, even despite the will of the European Commission, it is unacceptable to spread LGBTQ propaganda among children, and we also cannot abandon our position on migration issues,” Gulyas said.

The EU takes issue with a Hungarian law passed in 2021, which forbids the display of homosexual content to minors in media, including television, films, advertisements and literature.

The law, which has been decried by rights groups and foreign governments as discriminatory, also prohibits the discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in school education programs and forbids public display of products depicting or promoting gender deviation.

Hungary's government has also implemented a policy of turning away asylum seekers at its borders and requiring them to begin their asylum process at Hungarian embassies in Serbia and Ukraine — a practice that was declared unlawful last year by the EU's top court.

The EU in December released more than 10 billion euros ($10.9 billion) to Hungary after it undertook reforms to ensure the independence of its judicial system, but more than 20 billion euros remain frozen pending further legal changes.

On Wednesday, European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said those funds “will remain blocked until Hungary fulfills all the necessary conditions.”