Hungary avoids confrontation with Brussels and hopes to release European funds in 2023 | International

The ultra-conservative government of Viktor Orbán has received this Wednesday the biggest blow that the European Commission can inflict on a Member State: the proposal to suspend 7,500 million euros of European funds as punishment for not having fulfilled the commitments to straighten out the deteriorated State of hungarian law. Budapest, which is now in the hands of the Twenty-seven and needs the funds in a difficult economic context, has avoided confrontation with Brussels after the announcement. The minister in charge of the negotiations, Tibor Navracsics, has assured that the Executive will continue with the reforms promised to unblock financing in 2023. This temperate attitude contrasts with the belligerence that Budapest has displayed in previous clashes with the European authorities.

The buzz about the Commission’s decision had been going around the Hungarian capital for a week, after several media outlets reported it. Brussels has finally asked the Council to suspend 65% of three cohesion fund programs because it considers that the Hungarian Executive has not completed the 17 measures it promised to tackle corruption and, therefore, community money is still at risk. In parallel, Brussels has given the green light to the country’s recovery plan after the pandemic, the only one that remained pending, but with conditions: it will not make any transfer of the 5,800 million euros in subsidies until reforms aimed at reinforcing independence are carried out. judicial, staggered in what has been called super milestones.

In an appearance before the media, Navracsics has celebrated that the recovery plan has had the support of the Commission, without delving into the associated requirements. “We should be proud,” the Minister of Regional Development and the EU celebrated, according to the Reuters agency. On the news of the day, the step forward of the conditionality mechanism that is being launched with Hungary, has played down the importance of punishment by ensuring that the country “will comply with its commitments as it has up to now and in 2023 it will be possible to have 100% access to the funds from all operational programs”. According to his version, in the schedule that Budapest had set, there are pending legislative reforms for which the deadlines have not expired. “We are not at the finish line yet,” he added.

In Hungarian civil society, the heavy hand that he finally perceives from Brussels has been welcomed. “Given the current circumstances, it is the right decision,” says József Péter Martin, director of Transparency International (TI) in Hungary. “It is very important that after a decade the Commission takes systematic violations of the rule of law and systemic corruption seriously,” he believes, and considers the milestone plan positive, which implies strict monitoring of the execution of commitments . However, he insists that the reform package undertaken by the Government is not enough and advocates the country’s accession to the European Prosecutor’s Office.

Hungary recorded inflation of 21.1% in October, a record in 26 years. In food, the price rise reached 40% that month, the highest data in the EU. The national currency, the forint, is falling in the foreign exchange market and has a very worrying fiscal deficit. Budapest cannot afford to suspend the 13.3 billion euros at stake. “The government has purposely put Navracsics, the most moderate, at the head of the negotiations,” explains Rudolf Berkes, an analyst at the think tank Political Capital.

Now the destination of this money is in the hands of the Twenty-seven, who will take the final decision on the two Commission resolutions, foreseeably before the end of the year. “The comments and statements are being more restrained than usual,” continues Berkes. After months of vetoes on decisions such as the establishment of a minimum corporate tax and harsh confrontations in the Council over measures related to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, these days Hungary seeks to project “a more pro-Ukrainian image to soften relations and tensions with member states.

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