Rule of Law: Brussels begins retaliatory measures against Hungary

Posted on Apr 5, 2022, 6:56 PMUpdated Apr 5, 2022 at 7:33 PM

The absence of congratulations traditionally given to the winner of legislative elections was not a good sign. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen apparently did not appreciate Viktor Orban’s comments on Sunday, and his re-election was barely confirmed.

Congratulating himself on his great victory, the patriotic leader attacked the “bureaucrats” in Brussels, again, but especially the one he called his opponent, the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky. His most ambiguous stance since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and his reluctance to accept European sanctions against his political “royal” Vladimir Putin, have prompted the European Commission to speed up the pace in the face of a leader who scoffs at European values. It has drawn its last legislative weapon that could deprive Hungary of €40 billion in European funds.

In front of the Strasbourg Parliament and applauding, Ursula von der Leyen announced on Tuesday the activation of the “conditionality” mechanism against Hungary, with the aim of depriving a country of funds that violate the rule of law. More specifically, the mechanism targets violations of the rule of law that would jeopardize the proper use of European funds in a Member State.

Conflict of interest and corruption

“Today he spoke with the Hungarian authorities and informed them that we will now send a letter of formal notice to activate the mechanism,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the EU’s budget commissioner.

The file against Hungary was ready, but the commission preferred to allow the general elections to pass so as not to interfere in the vote and to avoid presenting arguments to the outgoing prime minister in his war against European institutions. In an earlier letter sent to Budapest in November, the commission expressed concerns about public procurement problems, conflicts of interest and corruption.

The European Parliament has been running out of patience since this instrument entered into force on 1Verse previous january. It blamed the European Commission for its inaction, even taking a case to the European Court of Justice, in October 2021, for failing to fulfill its obligation to enforce the regulations and trying to “play the clock”.

The Commission, for its part, argued that it had pledged to wait for the European Court of Justice’s opinion on this device – which was requested by Warsaw and Budapest – before implementing it. The court gave the green light on February 18, but the committee then wanted to revise its “guidelines,” i.e. the conditions under which this mechanism could be triggered. The European executive wanted this new tool to be legally secured before it was deployed against Hungary and Poland so that it would not be scorned in the event that the attacked country would prosecute it.

Six to nine months

The process that began on Tuesday will take time. It was also pressured by Poland and Hungary, which threatened to veto, and it was lengthened and made more complex. The procedure allows the indicated state to respond or even correct the identified deficiencies. The procedure should take six to nine months. In the end, a suspension or possible reduction of European payments must be adopted by at least 15 of the 27 member states.

The idea for this new tool arose from the inability of the Community’s institutions to enforce the core values ​​of the European Union, particularly in areas such as corruption and the independence of justice. Article 7 of the European treaties has already been triggered against Hungary – and Poland, but it collides with the consensus needed to punish a country.

This new chapter opens with Hungary in a context full of conflicts and controversies over the independence of the judiciary, the power’s control of the media, and its refusal to accept the supremacy of the European legal system over national law.

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