The EU tightens the screws on Hungary with cohesion funds scaled

The EU tightens the screws on Hungary with cohesion funds for its violations of the rule of law | International

The European Union hardens its position on Hungary and its violations of the rule of law. The European Commission continues its tug of war on the 7,500 million euros in cohesion funds that it recommended freezing last September while waiting for Budapest to carry out the promised reforms to tackle corruption in the country and guarantee judicial independence. Now, when the deadline for compliance with the agreed measures and also the review expires, Brussels believes that Hungary has not complied with everything and is inclined to keep the money frozen, according to Commission sources. This is money that Budapest needs due to its serious problems in its public accounts, rising inflation and a currency with a sinking price.

The Community Executive must formally decide on the funds for Hungary next week. Meanwhile, the European Parliament has put more pressure on the Commission this Thursday, with a resolution —approved by a majority in a plenary session that a few weeks ago defined Hungary as an “electoral autocracy”— that demands the freezing of funds.

Hungary also does not seem close to obtaining the funds corresponding to its recovery plan on the pandemic, 5.8 billion euros in subsidies, which have not yet been approved and which are also linked to Budapest repairing its democratic setback. In principle, the Executive of Ursula von der Leyen does agree with the way in which Budapest would plan to invest the money, should it arrive. But in the community capital they have no intention of approving the plan if the ultra-conservative government of Viktor Orbán does not commit to the reforms to repair its rule of law, something that is added to the failure to comply with the 17 reforms required to unfreeze the other pending chapter, that of the cohesion funds, according to what the German newspaper announced on Wednesday Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The European Commission is at a very complex crossroads, although the final decision rests with the Member States. They must decide in December whether to effectively apply, for the first time, the conditionality mechanism, which allows Brussels to withhold funds if it considers that the EU budget is at risk, as it has considered in the case of Hungary. There it has detected irregularities in public procurement. And the Orbán Executive has drawn on European funds for its public policies and thousands of tenders that the Commission, in an audit, has considered clientele.

The wayward partner of the Twenty-seven

The freezing of funds – or rather the threat these days that it will decide to keep them withheld – is also a way of putting pressure on Hungary, the wayward partner of the Twenty-seven, the closest to the Kremlin and which has publicly come out against the sanctions. to Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. Orbán also threatens to veto the European Commission’s plan to provide budget support to kyiv for 18,000 million, money that the country needs to stay afloat in the face of the war launched nine months ago by Vladimir Putin.

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Orbán’s chief of staff and Minister of the Presidency, Gergely Gulyás, assured this Thursday that he expects Hungary to obtain the 7,500 million cohesion funds next year. In a video posted on social networks, the ultra-conservative prime minister talks about a new compliance date, March, to which, according to him, Brussels would also have given the go-ahead. Community Executive sources do not speak of any new term. In a briefing in Budapest, reported by the Hungarian press, Gulyás remarked that they have not received any official communication from Brussels about the funds. He added that if they were to remain frozen, it would be a “political” decision and that Budapest would comply with the conditions.

The Hungarian government also charged the European Parliament and described the resolution that calls for keeping the cohesion funds frozen as a “witch hunt”. “The European Parliament would do better to get back to work on strengthening unity and trust between countries, instead of digging ditches between member states and petty witch hunts,” said Justice Minister Judit Varga. on social networks, in a comment in which he accused the European Chamber of “pressure to deprive the Hungarian people of the resources that correspond to them.”

The clashes with Budapest had already been very serious and constant before, due to its anti-democratic drift and the constant degradation of the rule of law in Hungary (fight against corruption, LGTBI rights, freedom of the press…), its attitude towards immigration policy or the blockade that maintains the development in the EU of the international agreement for a minimum floor of 15% in corporate tax. To all this we must add, in recent days, the anger that Orbán has caused among neighboring countries with his historical revisionism by posting on his Facebook account a video in which he wears a scarf with the map of Greater Hungary, which covers territories of present-day Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia.

This accumulation of provocations and disagreements put Hungary in a very difficult situation if the Commission finally raises that freeze, since for it to go ahead it would have to have a qualified majority in the Council of the EU, that is, the support of 55% of States representing at least 65% of the population.

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