28th Jul 2021

EU may delay approval of Hungary's recovery plan

  • In April, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán discussed the national plan (Photo: European Commission)

The EU Commission has not concluded its assessment of Hungary's national plan for the bloc's Covid-19 recovery fund disbursements, the EU executive said on Monday (12 July).

Monday was the final day for approval of the plan according to the original timeline, which gave the commission two months for assessment following the submission of the plan.

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The commission said that if the assessment now requires weeks rather than days, it will urge Hungary to agree on an extension to the deadline.

"We are working constructively to conclude our assessment as fast as possible. […] Should our assessment require more weeks rather than days, we will propose to Hungary to agree on an extension of the two-month deadline," commission spokeswoman Arianna Podesta told reporters.

The spokeswoman said the EU executive is analysing the latest responses it received from the Hungarian authorities to previous commission questions, which arrived last Friday.

Prime minister Viktor Orbán's government is seeking to unlock €7.2bn in EU funding as part of the bloc's recovery support, but its programme has come under intense scrutiny as concerns over corruption and rule of law in the country have risen.

MEP s last week urged the commission not to approve Hungary's recovery plan until an effective anti-fraud system is in place in the country.

The commission did not comment on details of the assessment on Monday, or where it seeks adjustments from Budapest.

The recovery plans need to take on baord issues laid down in the commission's yearly economic recommendations, to unlock the tranches of EU funding.

Those commission 2019 recommendations for Hungary included a call for Orbán's government to "reinforce the anti-corruption framework, including by improving prosecutorial efforts and access to public information, and strengthen judicial independence".

In its 2020 analysis the commission points out that "investigation and prosecution appears less effective in Hungary than in other member states". It adds that "determined systematic action to prosecute high-level corruption is lacking".

Hungary, among other countries, has not joined the EU's public prosecutors office in charge of uncovering misses of EU funds, and there have been calls for stronger anti-corruption mechanisms in its national recovery plan.

After EU nations get the green light from the commission for their plans, they will still need the approval of other member states too, in the council.

Critics have said that corruption safeguards might be insufficient in the Hungarian plan.

Five extensions

So far, five members have requested extensions: Poland, Estonia, Romania, Sweden and Finland. These extensions range from a few weeks, to the end of September.

The possible delay also comes after weeks of intense debate between EU countries and institutions with Budapest over LGBTIQ rights.

The commission warned Hungary over a recent law that it is discriminatory towards LGBTIQ people, while Orbán's government argues it is only protecting children.

Hungarian justice minister Judit Varga told Hungarian public radio on Sunday that there had been "highly-constructive dialogue" over the national plan, adding that Hungary's recovery package had been drawn up in line with EU rules.

However, she said, the commission has made "new demands" in light of what she called the "child-protection law", adding that the "two should not be linked."

"Money to Hungarian people can not be linked to ideological conditions," Varga said, claiming that "the commission, backed by the European Parliament, wants LGBTIQ activists and organisations to be let into kindergartens and schools".

The Hungarian government has in the meantime launched a new national consultation, a series of pre-directed questions to be answered by the citizens, including accusations that "Brussels" wants to force its will on Hungary and that US billionaire George Soros will attack Hungary over migration.

Last week billboards went up in the country urging participation in the consolation, one of which is featuring an angry emoji and asking: "Does Brussels make you angry?"

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