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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after his party Fidez were reelected on Sunday. Xinhua News Agency/PA Images
EU Funding

EU launches procedure to strip Hungary of funding over democratic standards concerns

It comes just two days after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban won re-election with a massive majority.

LAST UPDATE | 5 Apr 2022

THE EU EXECUTIVE today launched a never-used procedure against Hungary that could see the Hungarian government stripped of EU funding for flouting democratic standards.

The move comes two days after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban won re-election with an overwhelming majority. The nationalist is frequently accused in Brussels of backsliding on democratic norms.

The European Commission “will now send the letter of formal notification to start the conditionality mechanism,” European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said to applause at a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

The Hungarian government accused Brussels of “making a mistake”.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas urged the European Commission “not to punish Hungarian voters for expressing an opinion not to Brussels’ taste”.

Gulyas urged the European Union to “return to common sense and dialogue”.

Regularly criticised by the EU for undermining the rule of law, Orban attacked “Brussels bureaucrats” in his victory speech on Sunday, after securing a fourth term in office. 

Hungary has clashed with Brussels over its public procurement system, conflict of interests and corruption.

The conditionality mechanism was created in 2020, after a summit at the height of the coronavirus pandemic that agreed common borrowing to build an €800 billion pile of grants and loans for EU countries to recover.

Budget hawks, including Austria, the Netherlands and Nordic countries, demanded the conditionality mechanism to put guard rails around the spending of taxpayers’ money.

Hungary and Poland challenged the new procedure in the EU’s top court. But the European Court of Justice in February greenlit its use, saying the European Union “must be able to defend those values”.

The commission has been under pressure from the European Parliament to apply the conditionality mechanism against Poland and Hungary. The legislature launched legal action to make the commission act.

“This is long overdue. The failure of the Hungarian government to manage public money transparently is well known and documented,” said French MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield.

“How can a member state use EU funds properly when the independence of the judiciary has been destroyed and there are no sufficient safeguards against corruption?” she added.

The use of the mechanism adds to a long list of other procedures the commission has taken over rule-of-law concerns against Hungary and Poland that has included court ordered fines.

The issue of corruption is also the reason for the commission’s blocking of the Hungarian recovery plan, worth €7.2 billion in European subsidies.

© AFP 2022

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