By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – The European Union’s executive has recommended freezing billions of euros allocated to Hungary for “failing” to tackle corruption and other rule-of-law concerns.
In a significant setback for Hungary’s increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the European Commission suggested the bloc suspend around 7.5 billion euros ($7.5 billion) in regular funding to Hungary.
It cited serious concerns about alleged democratic backsliding and the possible mismanagement of EU money.
Hungary agreed on 17 anti-corruption measures, including creating an anti-corruption task force and changes to its public procurement rules. But the Commission said Hungary had not done enough to fix the problems.
EU Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn told the media Wednesday that the new rule of law conditionality mechanism was “the right tool to apply” as those reforms “would never have happened otherwise.”
Additionally, the Commission made clear it would not immediately release the 5.8 billion euros reserved for Hungary to help overcome the coronavirus pandemic.
While endorsing the country’s post-COVID Recovery Plan, Brussels demanded Budapest fulfill 27 so-called “super milestones” to secure the funds, including the 17 anti-corruption measures.
Orbán’s government condemned the move, which it believes is politically motivated due to its anti-migration policies and Christian, pro-family opinions.
Yet the Hungarian opposition welcomed the EU’s crackdown on corruption in this nation of nearly 10 million people. “In the last ten years, billions of euros came to Hungary, but health care is worse than ten years ago. And the education system is also in a worse situation,” noted Klára Dobrev, a prominent Hungarian European legislator.
“The competitiveness did not increase because all these funds went to three or four oligarchs [close to Orban],” she added. “Now, with this decision, we can stop this process.”
The Commission agreed, saying “that, notwithstanding steps taken, there is still a continued risk to the EU budget.”
It came as another setback for Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán, who has been criticized over his perceived autocratic style, which also included a crackdown on independent media and limited the independence of the judiciary.
Orbán, one of Europe’s longest reigning leaders, angered the 27-nation bloc’s officials with his repeated criticism of the EU sanctions targeting Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Budapest also halted the adoption of a global corporate tax proposed by U.S. President Joe Biden.
Additionally, Hungary had vetoed the European Commission’s plan to raise 18 billion euros for Ukraine by issuing joint debt, but Hahn said, “there is no argument not to participate.”
“If you apply a rather conservative calculation,” he explained, “the share of Hungary would be 6 million euros, not billion, 6 million euros.”
Hungary’s government pledged last week to provide 187 million euros in assistance to Ukraine, which it said was the share Hungary would have to pay under the Commission’s plan for a joint EU loan.
While the European Council comprising all 27 member states has to approve suspending money, votes could occur as early as December 6 when economy ministers gather in Brussels, sources said.
Any action to not transfer the billions to Hungary must be approved by EU member countries.
This requires a “qualified majority,” which amounts to 55 percent of the 27 members representing at least 65 percent of the total EU population.
But with Orbán facing criticism even among traditional allies over his pro-Russian stance and alleged lack of democratic credentials, it was increasingly likely that most Council members would back freezing funds.
If you are interested in articles produced by Worthy News, please check out our FREE sydication service available to churches or online Christian ministries. To find out more, visit Worthy Plugins.