A delegation of the European Parliament’s Budgetary Control committee concluded a fact-finding visit in Budapest this week. The members of the European Parliament (MEPs looked into ongoing issues with the protection of the EU budget and met with Hungarian public officials, NGOs and journalists.
The group of European Union (EU) lawmakers visiting Budapest expressed concerns about Hungary's ability to receive frozen EU funds. The lawmakers, representing various political parties, reflected on the ongoing dispute between the European Commission and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's right-wing government over issues of judicial independence and corruption in Hungary. During their three-day visit, the MEPs raised doubts about Hungary's audit body, criticizing it as inadequate and accusing the government of using public tenders to benefit Orbán's family and associates. How can we ensure that the EU money can reach Hungarian citizens, businesses and regions in a transparent. fair and impartial way?” said Monika Hohlmeier, the chair of the Parliament's budget committee, referring to shortcomings identified during the visit. The politician added that their inquiries regarding misuse of funds, tender manipulation, and reporting of fraud cases had gone unanswered. Hohlmeier, a German center-right MEP, said the Hungarian government was favoring friendly businesses through discriminatory measures, such as special taxes and last-minute emergency legislation, which undermine fair competition. She emphasized that in the EU single market, all companies must be treated equally in terms of rights and obligations.
According to their official program, the delegation visited the Minister for Regional Development Tibor Navracsics, State Secretary for European Union Affairs of the Ministry of Justice János Bóka, as well as the State Audit Office and the Directorate General for Audit of EU funds. They also met the Mayor of Budapest Gergely Karácsony, and the Association of Hungarian Municipalities. Finally, members interacted with investigative journalists, the business community, representatives of civil society, and NGOs.
While the lawmakers acknowledged some progress made by Hungary in addressing rule-of-law concerns and commended the establishment of the Integrity Authority, an anti-corruption body, they also identified several shortcomings that will be reported to the European Commission. The Parliament does not have the authority to determine whether the Commission will unfreeze cohesion and post-pandemic recovery funds for Hungary, but it has consistently urged the Commission to take a tougher stance.
Minister Navracsics told journalists that the talks achieved a foothold in mutual understanding, and he was confident members of the committee had been convinced on several issues by the Hungarian side’s objective arguments.
At the same time, the Ministry of Justice argued that Hungary fulfilled its commitments regarding judicial administration through the adoption of a package of judicial laws. Justice Minister Judit Varga called the delegation’s visit “a politically motivated tourist visit.”
“The left-wing majority in the European Parliament still seems unable to accept that Hungary is engaged in forward-looking and constructive negotiations with the Commission. Our commitments are being met on time, the crucial justice package was recently adopted by the Parliament, and Brussels should pay the EU funds due to Hungary in the near future,” the minister wrote in a Facebook post.
Hungary recently introduced a judicial reform aimed at unlocking approximately EUR13 billion of cohesion funds. However, EUR22 billion of cohesion funds and EUR5.8 billion in grants and EUR6.6 billion in cheap EU loans under the recovery fund remain blocked due to concerns over democratic backsliding, a controversial "child protection law," the treatment of asylum seekers, and the academic independence of Hungarian universities.
The dispute between the EU and Hungary continues, with the fate of frozen funds yet to be determined, as the Commission weighs the technical assessment alongside the political implications of releasing funds to Hungary.
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