Two days after the fourth consecutive electoral victory of sovereign leader Viktor Orban, the European Commission decided to launch an unprecedented measure against Hungary that would allow, in case of violation of the rule of law, the suspension of the payment of European funds.
The European Commission took action on Tuesday, April 5th against Hungary, two days after a new electoral victory for Sovereign Viktor Orban, by announcing the start of a measure that could deprive Budapest of European funds over accusations of corruption.
The launch of this unprecedented measure was announced by the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, before the European Parliament, which praised the initiative.
On the other hand, Poland, another country that is at loggerheads with Brussels over rule of law issues, is evading such action at this point.
“He spoke today (Tuesday) with the Hungarian authorities and told them that we will now send an official notification letter to activate the mechanism,” the German official said during a meeting of EU Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn. Question and answer session with MEPs.
The contents of this message were not specified. But in an earlier letter sent to Budapest in November, the commission expressed concerns about public procurement problems, conflicts of interest and corruption.
The insufficient fight against corruption is also the reason why the commission has blocked the Hungarian recovery plan, which amounts to 7.2 billion euros in European subsidies. Ursula von der Leyen commented that discussions with Budapest on this issue “do not currently make it possible to find common ground”.
According to Budapest, Brussels wants to “punish the Hungarian electorate”.
Gergeli Julias, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, accused the commission of “making a mistake” and wanting to “punish Hungarian voters for not expressing an opinion that satisfies Brussels in the elections” on Sunday.
Congratulating his confidant Russian President Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban did not fail to attack the “Brussels bureaucrats” in his victory speech, as did Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Comments are little appreciated in Brussels, in the midst of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The “conditional” mechanism is a measure that has been in effect since January 2021, but has not yet been used, to suspend the payment of European funds to a country where there are violations of the rule of law affecting the finances of the European Union.
The suspension or possible reduction of payments must be approved by at least 15 of the 27 member states representing at least 65% of the total EU population. This procedure should take between six and nine months.
The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed the legality of this regulation in mid-February, rejecting revocation actions by Hungary and Poland. The European Parliament has been pressing the Commission for months to activate this mechanism, but the latter decided to wait for the green light from the court.
“This is finally happening!” German Daniel Freund (the Greens) shouted on Twitter. Hungarian-elect Catalin Sieh (European Renewal) for its part suspended the “significant and unnecessary delay” of this decision.
‼️ Break ‼️
“We will now send the formal notification letter to start the conditionality mechanism (to the Hungarian government).”
Von der Leyen is now in plenary.
– Daniel Freund (@daniel_freund) April 5 2022
“It was a strategic mistake not to activate the mechanism long before the elections,” said Gwendolyn Delbus Corfield (Greens), the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Hungary.
Expert Eric Morris of the Schumann Foundation emphasized that “many elements show the regime and Orbán’s relatives appropriating European money.”
For Poland, the damage to the EU budget, a condition of being able to implement the conditionality regulation, is “less visible despite the weak rule of law due to the lack of independence of judges,” he says.
The issue of judicial reforms implemented by Poland’s ruling populist nationalist Law and Justice party sparked numerous convictions in Warsaw from European justice and financial sanctions.
The Commission has set three conditions for the approval of the Polish recovery plan (23.9 billion euros in subsidies): dissolving a controversial disciplinary chamber, reforming the disciplinary system for judges, and reinstating dismissed judges.
The head of the commission explained that the Polish government must pass a law in Parliament that meets these three criteria. “We are close to her but not there yet,” said Ursula von der Leyen, who is due to travel to Warsaw on April 9 to take part in a fundraiser for Ukrainian refugees. Poland is the country hosting the largest number (1.5 million according to the authorities).