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25th Feb 2024

MEPs urge Orbán to act to unblock EU money

  • MEPs Daniel Freund (far left), Petri Sarvamaa (left), and Monika Hohlmeier (centre) on their visit to Budapest (Photo: European Parliament)
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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 reforms to unblock suspended EU funds.

"Our goal is not to stop the money, our goal is that the money is spent in Hungary," German centre-right MEP Monika Hohlmeier told reporters on Wednesday (17 May) in Budapest.

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The delegation of the European Parliament's budget control committee checked the progress on the implementation of the 27 so-called super milestones, the measures the EU Commission has set for Hungary's government in order to unfreeze cohesion and Covid recovery funds.

Hohlmeier said Hungary should implement the measures "as soon as possible and as quickly as possible".

The EU's countries approved a plan for €5.8bn in grants for Hungary under the bloc's Covid-19 recovery plan last December, with the condition that Budapest implements 27 reform targets, including strengthening judicial independence and putting in place new anti-corruption safeguards.

At the same time, the EU also suspended some €6.3bn in cohesion funds to Hungary over rule-of-law concerns that the EU said were putting the bloc's budget at risk.

Negotiations are underway between Hungary's government and the commission — without breakthrough.

MEPs have no direct say in the unblocking of funds. However, the European Parliament has maintained political pressure on the commission to make sure Hungary follows EU rules on the independent judiciary and the fight against corruption before it gets EU money.

"The picture that has emerged [...] is one that is a great concern to us," Dutch MEP leftwing Lara Wolters said, adding that "the lack of information in terms of financial oversight of government spending, and the issues in control audit of public procurement and conflict of interest are of very great concern to us".

"Real change can only be brought about with real structural [changes], and a genuine return to democracy, the rule of law, and independent and free press," she said — adding that domestic Hungarian media attention was rather hostile to the committee.

At the press conference, media close to the government asked MEPs whether EU money was linked to Hungary's rejection of the perceived EU policies on migration, gender, and Ukraine, if MEPs supported weapon deliveries to Ukraine, and what they thought about corruption in Brussels.

"We are not inventing this stuff," Finnish centre-right MEP Petri Sarvamaa said in Budapest, adding: "Our sole purpose is to see that the EU budget is not at risk in any member state. This is not about Hungary as such."

Hohlmeier added that the committee also traveled to Spain, Italy, and Bulgaria to monitor EU spending.

German Green MEP Daniel Freund, nevertheless, said that even on his eighth visit to Hungary, he found things that "are unthinkable" in any other EU member state.

"A rule by decree, a state of emergency for eight years now ongoing, 95 budget amendments [in 2022] without participation of the national parliament, armed inspections of a soup kitchen by the tax authority," Freund said.

"We want EU funds to go to Hungary, to build schools, to put solar panels on roofs, to have fast internet everywhere, to do social assistance to the most vulnerable Hungarians," he said.

"But what we do not want is EU funds to just to enrich the family and friends of Mr Orbán by breaking EU rules on fight against corruption, prevention of conflict of interests," Freund added.

Tibor Navracsics, Hungary's minister partly in charge of negotiations said, on Wednesday, he felt that the European parliament delegation had not read the background material that had been sent to them beforehand.

He also claimed that political prejudices had influenced the opinions of many MEPs and that, as a result, factual errors were sometimes made in questions, according to media reports.

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