Sunday

17th Oct 2021

MEPs worry Hungary siphoning EU funds through foundations

  • MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield (r) and MEP Nicolas Bay at a press event on Monday (Photo: European Parliament)
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MEPs raised concerns over the possible misuse of EU funds in Hungary through a recently introduced system of foundations after a three-day visit to Hungary last week.

French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, who led the seven-member delegation - which included MEPs from the far-right, centre-right, liberals, green, centre-left, and left - said she would "alert the [EU] Commission and council [of member states] to be very careful" when assessing Hungary's EU subsidies.

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She said the issue of foundations created by the government of prime minister Viktor Orbán that transferred public assets to these private foundations where board members are often government allies, is a "great worry and concern".

"It raises questions on how EU funds that will be transferred to these new structures will have a transparent reading," Delbos-Corfield told journalists on Tuesday (5 October).

She pointed out that journalists will also have less access to data related to money being transferred to foundations, and that Orbán critics were worried that the foundation system is a way to cement Orbán's power and resources even if there was a change in government after elections next year.

Delbos-Corfield also pointed to the lack of access of opposition politicians to public media, and the independence of the judiciary as concerns.

She pointed to the issue of Gabriella Szabo, whose case was reported in EUobserver, and who was sidelined after asking a question on migration from the European Court of Justice.

The European parliamentary delegation met with around a hundred people in Budapest, including interior minister Sándor Pintér and justice minster Judit Varga.

Varga described the visit as a "political witchhunt", where "the indictment is the same as the verdict."

The aim of the MEPs' visit, which was postponed because of the pandemic, is to update the 2018 European Parliament report on Hungary, which originally triggered the so-called 'Article 7' EU sanctions procedure.

The Article 7 procedure has been stuck in the council after a series of hearings, but Delbos-Corfield said she hoped the under the French EU presidency next year, member states will be able to vote on recommendations for the Hungarian government, stepping up the process.

'Crazy women'

Most of the MEPs on the trip highlighted the worrying atmosphere in the country.

Before the arrival of the delegation and during their visit, government-friendly media engaged in a smear-campaign against the MEPs.

Pro-government media outlets ran stories attacking the leftwing member of the delegation, Swedish MEP Malin Björk as a feminist and a lesbian.

They accused the MEPs of being "LGBTIQ-actvisits" and "migrant allies" and tried to link them to US billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a nemesis of Orbán.

Centre-right Luxembourgish MEP Isabel Wiseler-Lima said it was difficult to engage in a dialogue, as whenever the delegation raised a problem, government officials and allies would argue there was no problem, rather than addressing the issue.

MEP Balázs Hidvéghi, who hails from Orbán's Fidesz party, described the delegation as a group of "five crazy women" and "two normal men".

The two men Hidvéghi was referring to came from French far-right leader Marine Le Pen's National Rally (RN) and Spain's far-right Vox party.

MEP Nicolas Bay (RN) told reporters on Monday that the delegation did not hear "any substantiated arguments, any facts and figures which would allow us to evidence any violations of human rights" in Budapest.

"We need to put an end to this political trial, political procedure. Five members of our committee oppose politically the Hungarian government, this was going to be fiasco," he argued.

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