EU urged to suspend funds for Hungary for ‘serious rule of law violations’ | Viktor Orban
Ursula von der Leyen is called on to suspend EU funds to Hungary to force Viktor Orbán to address concerns about politicized courts and corruption.
MEPs who work in the European Parliament’s budgetary control committee are calling on the President of the European Commission to use a new European law to freeze payments to Hungary for “serious violations of the rule of law”.
This is the latest salvo against the Hungarian prime minister, who last month faced unprecedented criticism from his fellow European leaders over a law banning the representation of homosexuals in educational material. The European Parliament is expected to condemn the law in a resolution on Thursday that will urge the committee to launch fast-track legal proceedings against Hungary for discrimination against LGBT people.
Long before the Hungarian parliament passed the controversial LGBT law, EU member states and MEPs were alarmed by Hungary’s spending of EU funds, including a street lighting contract awarded to the son-in-law of Orbán, as well as a vintage train to the birthplace of Orbán.
MEPs base their argument on a report by three academics, who conclude that “serious violations of the rule of law” mean that the EU executive is legally justified in suspending payments to Hungary to protect EU taxpayers.
“The lack of transparent management of EU funds, the absence of an effective national prosecutor’s office and the absence of guarantees of judicial independence show that Hungary has already flagrantly violated the fundamental principles of the State of law, ”says the report written by three professors at EU Law and Policy.
The report highlights the labs of 43 schools which cost 1 million euros (£ 850,000) each and were funded in part by the European Social Fund. A European Commission investigation found that each class was billed separately for textbook development, even though all used the same book. Brussels demanded reimbursement of a sum after concluding that the Hungarian authorities had not corrected several “irregularities” in spending.
“What we want is for the rule of law to work in Hungary, not because we have a sanctions fetish,” said German Green MEP Daniel Freund, who commissioned the report. “We essentially want the reestablishment of the rule of law. “
MEPs are not suggesting freezing any particular amount: in 2018 Hungary received 6.3 billion euros from the EU, or nearly 5% of its economy. The Hungarian government has requested an additional € 7.2 billion from the EU’s coronavirus stimulus fund.
It would be up to the committee to decide which EU payments to freeze, Freund said. “It should not be ordinary Hungarian citizens who suffer, it should punish the government, so the committee should identify the right budget lines,” said the MEP, who admitted that the decision would not be easy.
“I think the commission should explain to everyone why billions and billions of taxpayers’ money goes to Hungary when there is no management and control system that works on the ground” , did he declare.
Any attempt to stop payments to an EU country on democratic checks and balances would be a test for EU rule of law “conditionality” regulation. The Hungarian government is challenging the law in the European Court of Justice, raising concerns over the committee’s reluctance to act.
A spokesperson for the European Commission said: “The regulation entered into force on January 1, 2021 and the commission has been monitoring possible violations of rule of law principles that would be relevant under the regulation from day one. “
Orbán was appointed this week a “predator of press freedom” by Reporters Without Borders.