Rule of law mechanism: EU gives Orbán another chance – Politics

Rule of law mechanism: EU gives Orbán another chance – Politics

New hope for Viktor Orbán: The EU Commission will once again examine the extent to which the authoritarian Hungarian Prime Minister has implemented reforms to improve the fight against corruption. Possible consequence: The authority could propose to freeze a smaller amount of EU funding for Hungary. This surprising announcement made Federal Minister of Finance Christian Lindner on Tuesday after a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels. “There have been developments in Hungarian politics” in recent weeks, said the FDP chairman. Only the day before, Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn in the European Parliament against a new investigation. Lindner said the results would be available in “a few days”.

In September, the Commission threatened Orbán to freeze 7.5 billion euros in funding if he did not implement agreed reforms by November 19 that would protect EU money from abuse and the rampant corruption should protect. The basis for this is the new rule of law mechanism for the Brussels budget. Previous week noted Hahnthat the promises had not been sufficiently fulfilled. He therefore suggested that the EU finance ministers actually withhold the billions.

The ministers have to make this decision with a so-called qualified majority, which roughly corresponds to a two-thirds threshold. There is no certainty that this can be achieved. At their already planned meeting on Tuesday, the ministers decided not to vote. Instead, the Commission should first present an updated assessment that takes into account positive developments in Hungary after November 19th. Apparently, France and Germany, among others, had pushed for this in order to increase the chance that there would be a sufficiently large majority for the authority’s – possibly weakened – penalty proposal. Some Eastern and South-Eastern European governments are reluctant to show any toughness because they fear that they themselves will be targeted by the rule of law mechanism for corruption problems.

In order to improve his negotiating position, Orbán is also blocking other important initiatives that require unanimity. At the meeting of finance ministers on Tuesday, his representative voted against transferring the promised 18 billion euros in budget support to Ukraine in the coming year. Lindner called it “regrettable”. With its veto, Budapest also prevents the EU-wide introduction of the minimum tax for corporations, which has been agreed upon by the industrialized countries’ organization OECD. The vote was scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed after Hungary’s finance minister voted against aid to Ukraine.

The EU has the Corona pot as leverage

The other EU states are already considering how they can get the tax and support for Kyiv off the ground without Hungary’s placet. That is possible, but complicated and time-consuming – and it would show the world that European unity is not far off in these difficult times.

In addition, the Commission and the governments critical of Orbán are relying on another means of pressure: the Corona Aid Fund. Hungary is the only EU country whose support pot reform and investment plan has not yet been approved. wait there 5.8 billion euros in grants until the end of 2026 that do not have to be repaid. But if the ministers don’t approve the plan by the end of the year, 70 percent of the grants will be forfeited. The Commission proposes to finance ministers to adopt the concept.

Of course, that would not mean that money would flow immediately. Under pressure from the Commission, the plan stipulates that Hungary must implement 27 comprehensive reforms that strengthen the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption. Only when the government reaches these so-called “super milestones” can the authority transfer tranches. At the same time, meeting these requirements would eliminate concerns that subsidies are being misappropriated in Hungary. In this way, Budapest could also unleash the billions that Brussels wants to freeze for the time being because of the rule of law mechanism.

Now there is a showdown for the Advent season

The commission complained for years corruption, authoritarian tendencies and the dismantling of the rule of law and freedom of the media in Hungary. However, the rule of law mechanism is aimed exclusively at those abuses that could cause EU funds to end up in the wrong pockets. It allows subsidies to be withheld if deficiencies in the rule of law and the fight against corruption endanger their proper use. In April, the authority opened the procedure; in the September threatened Budget commissioner Hahn to freeze 7.5 billion euros if Orbán does not implement 17 reforms by November 19 that improve the fight against corruption and nepotism. The proposed cut affects three EU aid programs for disadvantaged regions. These support, for example, the construction of roads, sewage treatment plants and day care centers. In total, Hungary is to receive more than 34 billion euros in regional funding or agricultural subsidies by 2027.

A dramatic showdown is now pending in Brussels until the end of the year. In fact, the governments have to make four decisions in a package: freezing subsidies, releasing corona aid, supporting Ukraine and the minimum tax. The calculus: Hungary should give up its veto on the tax and the billions for Kyiv, in return the other states would pave the way to the Corona aid and – based on a new Commission review – decide on the withholding of the funding.

Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis but warnedthat the deadline for the updated investigation was “extremely compressed”. For example, the authority had to examine new “voluminous laws in Hungarian” and it was “difficult to present a high-quality assessment within a few days”. Lindner warned that “it shouldn’t be checked until the desired result is achieved, but we have to know exactly: Has anything actually changed substantially?”

A lower penalty would be “grotesque,” says one MP

It is unclear whether the finance ministers should decide on the four-package again – then a special meeting would be called – or whether their superiors will have to do it directly: The 27 heads of state and government will meet in Brussels on December 14th and 15th anyway.

There is sharp criticism in the European Parliament that the Commission should update its assessment. “There must be no discount for Hungary; our values ​​are non-negotiable,” said Daniel Caspary, leader of the CDU/CSU group in the European Parliament. Green MEP Daniel Freund said the commission had already given Orbán “countless deadlines”: “And he tore them all.” Freund called it “grotesque” if the Commission would now propose freezing less money. The amount of 7.5 billion euros is “already low”.

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