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17th Apr 2024

Hungary blames conspiracy for EU corruption rating

  • Hungarian government spokesman Zoltán Kovács (Photo: Zoltan Kovacs' office)
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Hungary has blamed a conspiracy for coming bottom in an EU corruption rating as it seeks to unfreeze European funding.

"Transparency International [TI] is a member of the Soros Network," Hungarian government spokesman Zoltán Kovács tweeted on Tuesday ( 31 January).

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"This network finances the campaigns of the domestic and international Left and serves it with its slanderous reports," he added.

Hungary's far-right government has a long track-record of intimating conspiracies, including allusions to the trope that US-based Jewish philanthropist George Soros secretly pulls the strings in European politics.

Kovács spoke after TI placed Hungary bottom out of the 27 EU states in its newest rating on worldwide perceptions of corruption, citing "a decade of democratic backsliding and systemic deterioration of the rule of law at the hands of the ruling party".

The low rating comes at a painful time, with Hungary trying to convince the EU to unfreeze billions of euros of funding withheld over rule-of-law and corruption concerns.

Some €138bn earmarked for Poland and Hungary "are not being paid out because of both governments' refusal [to] fully respect EU values and the rule of law", German Green MEP Daniel Freund also said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the respected Berlin-based NGO openly declares its funding, a fraction of which comes from Soros' Open Society Foundations.

"After a decade of steady decline on the [corruption index] it is not surprising that Hungary has ended up at the bottom of the ranking of EU countries this year," TI's Nick Aiossa told EUobserver in reaction to Kovács' comment.

"It is imperative that the [EU] Commission continues to suspend funds in the absence of meaningful national anti-corruption reforms," he added.

The new report painted a sad picture of Europe more broadly speaking, where the Czech Republic, Greece, and Ireland were the only EU states to improve their ratings year-on-year.

Denmark, Finland, and Sweden came top as usual, but TI complained of "stagnation" in their anti-corruption efforts.

It spoke of "opaque influence and political integrity deficits" in France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

It singled out Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, and Spain for "weak enforcement and slow implementation of anti-corruption measures".

It said declines in Austria and Malta's ratings, as well as Hungary's, were "accelerated by threats to rule of law".

And it warned that spyware scandals and shady defence industry deals risked taking the sheen off Greece and Sweden's good performance.

The broader findings gave the lie to Kovács' claims that Hungary was being singled out.

The Hungarian spokesman added that TI "did not investigate the Brussels bureaucracy or the [EU Parliament], which were — magically — left off the list", alluding to the Qatargate bribery scandal.

But there is nothing magical about this, since TI has only ever rated EU countries, rather than individual institutions, let alone multilateral ones.

And for all that, its latest study still took Brussels to task.

"The EU is reeling from a massive corruption scandal with allegations that current and former members of the European Parliament and their staff took bribes from Qatari officials — along with reports also implicating Morocco — in exchange for influence," it said in its press release, arguing for urgent reforms.

EU countries struggle to crack Hungary's vetos

Hungary will be in the spotlight on Tuesday as EU governments struggle over suspending EU funds to prime minister Viktor Orbán's government — despite rule of law concerns — and unlock key EU policies which Budapest has been blocking.

MEPs urge Orbán to act to unblock EU money

MEPs tasked with controlling spending of EU funds said they continued to have "great concerns" on how Hungary is handling EU money and called on prime minister Viktor Orbán's government to implement the necessary reforms to unblock suspended EU funds.

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