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More than 214 million euros in European Economic Area (EEA) and Norway Grants will be made available to Hungary under agreements signed with the representatives of donor countries Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein on Monday, the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (ITM) announced. The Grants, a part of which is due for civil society, had been long in the middle of domestic and international debates after the Hungarian government wanted greater control. 

According to the agreement, EUR 214.6 million has been allocated to Hungary.

Hungary will benefit from EEA and Norway Grants funding for a third funding period, ITM told MTI. Counting the government’s 11 billion forint contribution to the grants, Hungary will have access to more than 86 billion forints’ worth of development funds, the Ministry added.

A significant portion of the funds will be allocated towards projects related to energy and climate change. Business developments and innovation will also receive significant support, the ministry said. Improving the living standards of disadvantaged social groups, particularly the Roma community, will also be a key aim when distributing the funds.

Fact

Hungary is the third largest recipient of EEA and Norway Grants, a contribution on the part of Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein to reduce social and economic disparities in the EEA (even though they are not EU members, they benefit from the EU single market). The support has two categories: the distribution of the larger amount, the economic development money, can be decided by the government, while funding for civil society goes for the NGOs.

The Norway Grants, or rather their distribution, was in the middle of domestic and diplomatic debates for quite some time. After the 2014 elections, Hungarian authorities raided the office of the Ökotárs Foundation (and those of certain recipient NGOs), responsible for the distribution of funds, while the Fidesz-led government said the grant had been used for political purposes (alleging links with green-centrist LMP) and additionally accused Ökotárs of unauthorized financial activities and lack of transparency. Many, on the other hand, viewed the government’s action as an attack on the civil sphere, as the Grant’s money supported NGOs involved with issues like human rights, equal opportunity, youth and children’s issues, the environment, and minority and vulnerable groups.

The debate soon led to diplomatic tensions, and while Norway and the other countries consistently denied political activities, and auditing also didn’t confirm any kind of wrongdoing. For some time, payments were also suspended by the donor countries and the government came under criticism from, for example, the Council of Europe and  OSCE. Meanwhile, the government still insisted that it should have a role in the distribution of the grants and blamed the Norwegian government’s “insistence on supporting the civil organizations of [US billionaire] George Soros.”

According to the agreement, support for civil society will, however, “remain substantial.” “After a long process of negotiation, it is positive that we have finally reached an agreement on the framework for EEA and Norway Grants funding to Hungary in the current period. It is especially important to us that funding is made available to civil society and that the fund operator will be independent of the Hungarian authorities,” the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Eriksen Søreide, commented.

featured image via Norwegian Embassy in Budapest- Facebook