EU wants to freeze subsidies for Hungary - politics

The decisive weeks are beginning in the rule of law dispute with Hungary: as early as this Sunday, the EU Commission could adopt a proposal to freeze billions of euros in European subsidies to the country. The Brussels authority would do that new rule of law mechanism to use. This regulation makes it possible for the first time to withhold money if problems arise corruption and rule of law in the recipient country jeopardize proper use.

The commission launched proceedings against the government of authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán last April - it was a first. The rules give the authority until Wednesday to make a decision, but it is rumored in Brussels that the college of commissioners will make the decision three days earlier.

After that, the Council of Ministers, the body of the member states, has to approve the proposal within three months - with a qualified majority, which corresponds to around a two-thirds majority. Green MEP Daniel Freund, who is following the process closely, assumes that the responsible EU finance ministers will make a decision at the end of November. However, together with the cut proposal, the commission will also adopt recommendations on what Orbán would have to do to remedy the deficits criticized in the fight against corruption and conflicts of interest and in the system of public tenders. This means that Hungary has until the EU finance ministers meeting in November to meet the demands and avert the funds freeze.

in one July letter Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn threatened Hungary that the EU could withhold 70 percent of the funds from several programs of the Structural Funds, i.e. from the Brussels pots for the promotion of disadvantaged regions. According to calculations by MP Freund, this is about seven billion euros. According to the commission, the government in Budapest moved after this letter. But apparently not enough so far. Which is why the authority will propose the cut at the weekend.

Can Brussels be fooled?

In addition to the rule of law mechanism, the Commission has a second means of financial pressure: it is still not releasing the money from the Corona Aid Fund to Hungary. The country can 5.8 billion euros expect grants. Freund estimates, however, that after a possible settlement of the dispute over the rule of law mechanism, this corona aid would also flow. The Green MEP would regret that. He fears that the commission is making it too easy for Orbán to meet the requirements of the rule of law mechanism: "I have serious doubts that the recommendations on what Orbán needs to change are enough to put Hungary back on the right track." The European Parliament passed it with a large majority on Thursday an - inconsequential - reportwhich in Hungary "a disintegration of democracy, which rule of law and fundamental rights".

Orbán urgently needs the blocked funds; Billions of forints in expenditure and investments have already been pre-financed from the state budget - with the promise that the state coffers will be replenished as soon as the Corona aid flows. The Orbán government tried to create a good mood with a ministerial show in Brussels; instead of assigning blame and insults, communication on the Hungarian side is currently characterized by diplomatic optimism - according to the motto: We have made so many good suggestions that Brussels can't help but stop the rule of law process and ease the pressure.

There is now great concern in civil society that Brussels will allow itself to be lulled. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, like Transparency International and the organization K-Monitor, which fights for the transparency of public finances, has bowed to the Hungarian anti-corruption proposals, which are due to be approved in the Budapest parliament next week. With a two-thirds majority, Fidesz can govern. The most important points are: a new, independent anti-corruption authority to be set up, which is to be staffed from outside and then become active when government agencies fail to take action. Stricter controls on government tenders to prevent just one bidder getting the job or Fidesz loyalists getting the jobs. And more public discourse and democratic control through civil society participation.

However, all three organizations agree that the proposals are already suffering from the fact that the first promise was broken again: no public debate about the rule of law principles in Hungary, instead papers negotiated in the back rooms of Fidesz, some of which have already been introduced as laws, some of them are only to be introduced next weekend and which no one has yet seen in detail. Nevertheless, it should be voted on next week. Andras Lederer from the Helsinki Committee says "it's absurd to want to assess the legally binding effect of something that civil society shouldn't even know about". And why, he asks, isn't the existing anti-corruption agency and the judiciary being made more efficient instead of creating a new, aloof agency to work against the old one?

"Hungary is not a democracy"

The respected corruption fighter and independent MP Ákos Hadházy is also highly irritated. More bidders in tenders, he thinks that's all well and good, but there are often candidates to be counted and only one real bidder - the government is already easily circumventing such rules. He has a simple answer to the question of whether Orbán could have realized that his country has some catching up to do on rule of law issues: "As long as Hungary doesn't join the European Public Prosecutor's Office and bow to its authority, everything Budapest does is just for show. They're trying just buying time."

A curiosity on the side: On Thursday Hadházy queued up in front of the visitor entrance of the Budapest Parliament and bought a ticket. Because although he is an elected member of parliament, he is only allowed to enter the building as a guest four months after the election. Hadházy, an independent member of parliament and a nationally known anti-corruption fighter, has not yet been sworn in, which is why he has not received a diet for four months and his staff has not received a salary.

The reason why Hadházy wanted to protest in parliament on his own behalf: he had refused to take part in the first session in the spring after the parliamentary elections and the furious victory of Viktor Orbán's Fidesz, at which the general swearing-in ceremony also took place. He wanted to protest against what he saw as a rigged election, which had also been sharply criticized by the OSCE election observers. Since then, says the politician, the speaker of the parliament has been delaying taking the oath, to which Hadházy is of course entitled. "You can see," says the man from Debrecen, "that Hungary is not a democracy if uncomfortable MPs are denied the right to participate in the political process."

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