E.U. proposes suspending $7.5B in funding for Orban’s Hungary over corruption

BRUSSELS — The European Commission proposed Sunday to freeze billions of dollars in funding to Hungary over corruption concerns, the first move of its kind that could deepen the standoff between Brussels and Budapest.

According to EU officials, the commission will ask EU countries to approve the suspension of 65 percent of funding from three programs, amounting to about $7.5 billion. But the commission appears to have left the door open for Hungary to reform and keep the money at the end.

It is the first time the EU is using a new measure aimed at protecting its budget by subjecting funding to certain criteria. “Today’s decision is a clear demonstration of the Commission’s commitment to protecting the EU budget, and will use all the tools at our disposal to ensure this important objective,” said Johannes Hahn, Commissioner in charge of Budget and Administration. said in a statement. Statement.

In announcing the possible suspension, Hahn cited three areas of concern: systematic procurement irregularities, issues related to the prevention of conflicts of interest and issues related to Hungary’s anti-corruption framework. However, he noted that Hungary has committed to a package of 17 reform measures to address EU concerns.

According to the Commission, EU member states will have one month to decide whether to proceed, with the possibility of a two-month extension. An EU official suggested on Wednesday that an extension is likely. A qualified majority is required to proceed.

The move comes as the European Parliament declared that under the current government the country has become a “hybrid regime of electoral autonomy” – and comes after years of conflict between the EU and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government. Is.

Orban, a self-styled “illiberal democrat” in power from 2020, has a long history of clashing with Brussels over where Hungary – and the bloc itself – is headed.

EU lawmakers announced that Hungary is no longer a democracy.

Over the past decade, he has gradually tightened his grip on Hungarian democracy, reining in the country’s press, weakening the country’s judiciary and squeezing civil society.

Each step has been greeted with fear and dismay in Brussels, where many officials worry that the end of Hungary’s democracy undermines the values ​​and unity of the 27-member bloc.

Still, the EU has struggled to respond – and continues to send large sums of money.

In 2018, the European Parliament voted to launch a rule-of-law investigation against Budapest for what it called a “clear risk of a serious breach” of democratic principles under the bloc. In 2020, the European Parliament A new regulation was approved. The aim is to prevent EU funds from being misused in a country where the rule of law is being undermined.

In April, when Orbán won a fourth consecutive term, he celebrated A mockery of the European Union. “We won a victory so great that you can see it from the moon, and you can certainly see it from Brussels,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, the Commission launched a new initiative, known as the “conditional procedure”.

America’s organization: America’s right is following Hungary’s path.

On Wednesday, EU officials emphasized that the scope of the mechanism is limited to areas directly linked to the EU budget and EU financial interests – not necessarily other areas of EU concern such as media freedom or LGBTQ rights, given the obvious overlap. even so.

Some diplomats and members of the European Parliament worry that the measures are not going far enough and predict that Hungary will buy time with symbolic reforms.

“It sounds like a lot for Orbán to cut 7.5 billion euros. But it’s not.” wrote Daniel Freund, a German member of the European Parliament with the Greens, noted that billions would continue to flow into a “corrupt and authoritarian” system.

The commission, he said, is showing Orbán the easy way out: the wrong reforms.

Others see the move as a good move. “In the end, the Commission uses our teeth,” said Petri Sarvama, the European Parliament’s lead negotiator for the conditional regulation of the EU’s rule of law. Statement From the center-right European People’s Party, or EPP.

Saruma said that the proposed amount is “not peanuts. “The real question,” he continued, “is whether the Commission will ensure that the measures are actually implemented in the Hungarian system and whether the EU funds The risk of misuse is reduced.”

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