Ursula von der Leyen is urged to suspend EU funding to Hungary to force Viktor Orbán to address concerns about politicized courts and corruption.
MEPs working in the European Parliament’s budget control committee are calling on the president of the European Commission to use a newly created EU law to freeze payments to Hungary for “serious violations of the rule of law.”
It is the latest salvo against the Hungarian prime minister, who last month faced unprecedented criticism from other EU leaders over a law banning the representation of gay people in educational material. The European Parliament is expected to condemn that law in a resolution Thursday that will urge the commission to launch a fast-track legal case 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 contract for street lighting awarded to Orbán’s son-in-law, as well as an old train to Orbán’s hometown.
MEPs base their case on a report by three academics, who conclude that “serious breaches 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 lack of an effective national prosecutor’s office and the lack of guarantees of judicial independence show that Hungary has already flagrantly violated the basic principles of the rule of law,” the report states. prepared by three professors of law and politics of the EU.
The report highlights labs in 43 schools that cost € 1 million (£ 850,000) each and were funded in part by the European social fund. A European Commission investigation found that each classroom was charged separately for the development of textbooks, even though they all used the same book. Brussels asked for some money back after concluding that the Hungarian authorities had failed to correct several spending “irregularities”.
“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 basically want the restoration of the rule of law.”
MEPs are not suggesting that a particular amount of money be frozen: in 2018, Hungary received 6.3 billion euros from the EU, which is equivalent to almost 5% of its economy. The Hungarian government has requested another 7.2 billion euros from the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund.
It will be up to the commission to decide which EU payments to freeze, Freund said. “It should not be ordinary Hungarian citizens who suffer from this, it should punish the government, so the commission would have to identify the correct budget lines,” said the MEP, who acknowledged that the decision would not be easy.
“I think the commission has to explain to everyone else why billions and billions of taxpayers’ money go to Hungary when there is no functioning management and control system on the ground,” he said.
Any attempt to stop payments to an EU country through democratic checks and balances would be a test case for the ‘conditionality’ regulation of the EU rule of law. The Hungarian government is challenging the law in the European court of law, raising concerns that the commission may be reluctant to act.
A spokesperson for the European Commission said: “The regulation came into effect on January 1, 2021 and the commission has been monitoring possible breaches of the principles of the rule of law that would be relevant under the regulation from day one.”
Orbán was named this week a “predator of press freedom” by Reporters Without Borders.