Brussels does not trust Orbán

After more than ten years of confrontations, negotiations and broken promises, Brussels does not trust Viktor Orbán’s word. The European Commission yesterday gave the green light to the recovery plan submitted by the Hungarian government, the key to aid from the EU anti-crisis fund, but proposed not to authorize any payment until it complies and implements the main reforms it contains.

To the retention of this first tranche of aid worth 5,800 million euros, of which he could lose most if the situation is not resolved before the end of the year, another proposal is added, in this case to immobilize 7,500 million euros from cohesion funds allocated to the country of Magyar also for problems related to the rule of law and the fight against corruption.

It is the first time that Brussels applies the new conditionality regulation to ensure the correct spending of community resources, conditioning disbursements on respect for the rule of law. In April, the European Commission activated the mechanism with Hungary due to the “systematic irregularities” registered in the public calls for community subsidies, as well as deficiencies in the fight against corruption. There are suspicions that some tenders have favored businessmen close to Orbán, but the cases have not been investigated.

Brussels detects “systematic irregularities” in tenders to spend EU funds

Among the 17 measures that the Hungarian government has promised to apply to appease the concerns of the EU is precisely the creation of an independent authority in charge of ensuring the correct use of community funds. Budapest had a deadline of November 17 to adopt this and other reforms. Yesterday Brussels gave its verdict.

Although “Hungary is moving in the right direction”, said the Budget Commissioner, Johannes Hahn, “there is still a risk for the community budget”, which is why it maintains its proposal not to authorize the payment of the aid allocated in the cohesion fund , 7,500 million euros. “We are going to monitor very closely how Hungary implements these measures. Here it is not worth fulfilling a part to receive a part of the funds ”, warned the Justice Commissioner, Didier Reynders.

In total, the disbursements affected amount to 13.3 billion euros, money that the battered public finances desperately need. Part of the funds could be permanently lost if the Hungarian government does not reach an agreement with the European Commission. The financial difficulties in Budapest explain, according to diplomatic sources, Orbán’s willingness to accept the reform recommendations sent by Brussels. Until a few days ago, in the community capital it was expected that the Executive of Ursula von der Leyen would relax the pressure and authorize the disbursements. But, at this point, words are no longer valid, Brussels wants facts.

Budapest hopes to “convince” the EC and receive the money in 2023, but the Council will have the last word

The final decision is in the hands of the member states. The proposal of the European Commission must now be evaluated by the Council, the institution where the national governments sit, which must adopt a decision before December 19 on the suspension of the payment of the 7,500 million euros from the cohesion fund, the equivalent of 20% of the aid that the Magyar country should receive between 2021 and 2027.

Beyond the certainty that Poland will defend Hungary, it is not clear what the Council’s decision will be. The recommendation needs to go ahead by a qualified majority, that is, with the minimum support of 55% of the states and 65% of the population of the Union. The Eurocámara calls on governments not to give in to Orbán.

The Hungarian Executive played down the importance of the decisions of the European Commission yesterday and congratulated itself on having obtained the approval of its national recovery and resilience plan. “The freezing (of aid) is not a novelty,” said Tibor Navracsics, the minister responsible for the use of European funds, in statements to the press in Budapest. “We hope to convince the European Commission and thus we will have access to the funds in 2023,” he assured. Meanwhile, Budapest has taken hostage several decisions that the EU has pending. Although Orbán’s Executive ensures that there is no relationship between the issues, both the agreement for a minimum tax of 15% for multinationals and the approval of 18,000 million euros in financial aid to Ukraine are blocked by the Hungarian veto.