Brussels wants European funds to be frozen for the assault on the rule of law in Hungary. The European Commission this Sunday proposed to EU governments budgetary protection measures under the conditionality mechanism to ensure the protection of the EU budget and the EU’s financial interests against violations of the principles of the rule of law in Hungary. The decision consists of proposing to the Member States the suspension of 65% of three cohesion fund programs, some 7,500 million euros.
The European Parliament concludes that Hungary can no longer be considered a full democracy
European Commissioner Johannes Hahn, in charge of Budget and Administration, said: “Today’s decision is a clear demonstration of the European Commission’s determination to protect the EU budget and to use all the tools at our disposal to ensure this important objective”.
This step comes after negotiations between the Commission and the Hungarian authorities in recent months, “which have resulted in Hungary proposing a series of corrective measures to address the concerns identified by the Commission when the process was formally launched on 27 April this year”, says Brussels: “It comes after the letter that the Commission sent to Hungary, in which the measures it intended to propose to the Council are described, and the corrective measures presented by Hungary in the letter of August 22, supplemented with additional clarifications in a September 13 letter.”
“The Commission has carefully assessed the Hungarian response, looking in particular at whether the corrective measures adequately address the Commission’s initial findings. For the measures to be considered adequate, they must put an end to the breaches of the principles of the rule of law and the risks they create for the EU budget and the financial interests of the Union”, says Brussels: “The conclusion of the Commission is that the proposed corrective measures could, in principle, address the problems in question, if properly spelled out in the relevant laws and regulations and implemented accordingly.”
“Pending compliance with the key execution steps, the Commission considers that at this stage there is still a risk for the budget”, says the Community Executive, which proposes: “The suspension of 65% of the commitments of three operational programs in the cohesion policy framework; the prohibition of contracting legal commitments with public interest trusts for programs implemented in direct and indirect management”.
The Council – the EU governments – now has one month to decide whether to adopt such measures, by qualified majority. This period may be extended for a maximum of two more months in exceptional circumstances.
Hungary, for its part, has committed to fully reporting to the Commission on the completion of key implementation steps by 19 November.
Siege of Hungary
The extreme right is about to enter the Government of Sweden and win the elections in Italy – in both cases hand in hand with the European popular-. But there are already EU countries, such as Hungary and Poland, where ultra-conservative sovereignists have been in power for some time committing assaults on the judicial system, persecuting LGTBI groups and suffocating universities, the media and curtailing women’s rights -Hungary demands that women listen to the heartbeat of the fetus before aborting–.
This Thursday the European Parliament concluded that Hungary could no longer be considered a comparable democracy, but rather a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy”. That is, a place where elections are held, but without becoming democratic. The report approved in the European Parliament comes just four years after the European Parliament itself launched a censorship against the Government of Viktor Orbán – activating Article 7 for violating “European values” – and a few days after the European Commission proposed to propose to EU governments to cut European funds for corruption in the country.
“Today we are all aware that we must fight for our democracies, every day,” said the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, before the plenary session of the European Parliament during the debate on the State of the Union, this Wednesday in Strasbourg : “We must protect them both from the external threats they face and from the vices that corrode them from within. Protecting the rule of law is the noblest duty and mission of my Commission. So let me assure you of this: We will continue to insist on judicial independence. And we will also protect our budget through the conditionality mechanism.”
Judicial independence and conditionality mechanism, says Von der Leyen. Why? Because the money from the recovery funds to Poland –35.4 billion– is blocked until the Executive decolonizes the Judiciary. And conditionality mechanism because it is activated with Hungary, and about to go one step further.
“The Orbán government has been working to fulfill the mandate given to us by the majority of the Hungarian electorate: we have been fighting against the pressure of illegal immigration on our southern borders; keeping LGBTQ activists out of our schools protecting our children and right now we are the most opposed to Brussels’ failed sanctions policy against Russia,” according to Hungarian spokesman Zoltan Kovacs.
fight against corruption
Von der Leyen has explained in the past: “In the case of Hungary, we have made it clear. The issue is corruption, we have discussed with Hungary issues about the recovery and resilience mechanism, and here the requirement is reforms to fight corruption.”
In the report approved this Thursday in the European Parliament, the European Commission is also asked not to approve Hungary’s recovery plan until the country fully complies with all the recommendations of the European Semester and applies all relevant rulings of the European Court of Justice. EU and the Court of Human Rights; exclude from funding cohesion programs that contribute to the misuse of EU funds or breaches of the rule of law; and apply the Common Provisions Regulation and the Financial Regulation more rigorously to prevent misuse of Community funds for political reasons.
Of all this, there is already something that is happening, and that is that Brussels is keeping the Hungarian recovery plan frozen, 7,200 million euros, due to its authoritarian drift. In response, Orbán maintains the veto on the minimum tax of 15% at European level for multinationals. I veto that Spain, Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands want to circumvent, just as the 26 EU countries have had to overcome Hungary’s constant opposition to the sanctions against the Kremlin for the invasion of Ukraine decreed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, on February 24 last.
The EU has more and more open fronts with Orbán, and is tightening the fence around a system that is already defined, in the words of the European Parliament, as a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy”.