Tuesday

9th Mar 2021

Political interference row between Norway and Hungary escalates

  • Viktor Orban's government has often been in the EU spotlight (Photo: kormany.hu)

Norway summoned the Hungarian ambassador in Oslo to the foreign ministry on Wednesday (4 June) after the Hungarian authorities two days earlier raided the offices of NGOs involved in administrating aid from the Nordic country.

The move is the latest in a weeks-long spat over accusations by Budapest that Norwegian money has made its way to organisations with links to political parties.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government says some funds ended up with a green political party, Politics Can Be Different (LMP), that just surpassed the 5 percent threshold in April's general election, and also managed to send one representative to the European Parliament.

Janos Lazar, Orban's chief-of-staff in a letter to Norway's EU affairs minister, Vidar Helgesen, in April accused Oslo of meddling in internal politics and supporting the green party through the NGOs that coordinate the grants.

The Hungarian government also made a list of recipients it considered problematic for having “leftist political ties”.

Among them were Transparency International, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, and an investigative journalism portal, atlatszo.hu.

The Norwegian embassy in Budapest rejected the allegations in a statement last week. The LMP party also rejected the charges.

Since coming to power in 2010, Orban's government has often been accused of trying to curb press freedom, weaken independent institutions, and undermine the rule of law.

Some in the NGO community believe the attack on the Norway Grants programme means now they are the next target, something the government denies.

However on Monday, agents from the Government Control Office (KEHI) raided the offices of three NGOs that help Norway disburse its aids.

EU affairs minister Helgesen told Reuters on Monday (June 2) that his country would continue funding the grants and carry out its own audit, due in the autumn. He added that Budapest had agreed to the terms of the funding scheme it is now criticising.

"There is a shared European concern about the weakening of democratic institutions and processes (in Hungary), such as the constitutional court, the legal system, the electoral commission and of course the space for the media and others to enjoy the freedom of expression. There are infringements here that are cause for concern,” said Helgesen, noting that it would not be in Oslo’s interest to support any individual party.

In the escalating bilateral dispute, Norway suspended the grants given by the government in early May because Hungary has unilaterally changed the disbursement system.

However, Norway has maintained funding the civil society through its partner NGOs despite calls from Lazar to suspend them. The Norwegian money stems from a 1994 agreement under which it, Iceland and Liechtenstein donate aid to EU member states to help reduce economic disparities in return for access to the EU's single market.

Norway has allocated €153.3 million to Hungary for the 2009-2014 period.

Media freedom under renewed threat

Meanwhile, state Secretary Lazar is also caught up in the sacking of the editor-in-chief of one of the most popular news websites in Hungary, Origo.

Gergo Saling was abruptly removed from his post on Tuesday (3 June), with internal restructuring due to “changing media consumption habits” given as the reason.

His sacking came after the site recently revealed – after having to sue the Prime Minister’s office for the relevant information – that Lazar spent an unusually high amount of public money on foreign trips.

Lazar, avoiding further questions on the details of his trips, said he would pay back the roughly €6,600 in question.

Origo journalists and others suspect political pressure behind the sacking and issued a statement saying they did not agree with Saling's removal.

Origo's owner – Origo Zrt., a subsidiary of German firm Deutsche Telekom AG – denied there was any political motivation for the sacking.

About a thousand journalists and sympathisers protested in Budapest against the removal of the editor on Tuesday afternoon.

Hungary raids Norway-backed NGOs

Hungary has been accused of moving away from EU democratic values following a raid on two NGOs earlier this week.

Schinas spars with MEPs over migration job title

A number of MEPs pressed Margaritis Schinas to drop the "Protecting the European Way of Life" title of his portfolio, which deals with migration. But Schinas refused, claiming it needs protecting from terrorists and populists. He failed to convince.

News in Brief

  1. EU industry lobbies for 'double' CO2 perks
  2. Italy passes 100,000 corona deaths, and it's not over
  3. Mask-buying affairs embarrass Germany's top party
  4. EU talks on Kosovo and Serbia mark 10-year anniversary
  5. Ex-PM says Erdoğan pulling Turkey away from EU
  6. Report: EU to blacklist Myanmar conglomerates
  7. Suspected Chinese hackers hit EU banking regulator
  8. Belgium: Political pressure to abandon curfew

Parliament outmanoeuvred in EU top-post game

The European Parliament on Tuesday lost a years-long power struggle, and gave up winning more influence on European politics via the so-called Spitzenkandidat process it had championed.

Who is the new EU parliament president, David Sassoli?

The 63-year-old centre-left Italian MEP was elected president of the European Parliament, with 345 votes. A former journalist, Sassoli has experience as a vice-president of the parliament, but is little known.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. Von der Leyen on vaccines: 'We're tired of being the scapegoat'
  2. Ethiopia: Time to tell the truth, Ambassador
  3. EU Commission 'surprised' by Belgian travel ban extension
  4. Lack of legal clarity on EU 'pushbacks' of migrants at sea
  5. Africa and Arab world still in vaccine race starting blocks
  6. Frontex's 'serious incident reports' - revealed
  7. Women hit 'disproportionately' hard by Covid-19, report finds
  8. EU 'Future' Conference plus Covid recovery talks This WEEK

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us