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Leaders of the EU Member States have agreed with the European Parliament to make the next seven-year budget cycle conditional on the rule of law, which concluded a historic, three-week series of talks. With this decision, the Hungarian government seems to have lost a serious battle in Brussels, as the parliament managed to enforce most of its demands, while the Orbán government protested the loudest against the so-called rule of law mechanism from the beginning. Both Hungarian pro-government and opposition politicians, as well as critics of the Hungarian rule of law situation commented on reaching an agreement on the mechanism linking EU funds to rule of law guarantees. 

Today, an agreement was reached between the European Parliament and EU Member States, which states that observing rule of law principles will be a precondition for receiving money from the EU long-term budget. While the clear separation of the judiciary from the executive and legislative power in all Member States has been a priority for the EPP Group, a preventive function of the new mechanism is another essential part of the new EU law.

All the important details are not yet known, but it is certain that if the European Commission detects a breach of the rule of law or a risk to it, it can initiate the sanction mechanism, in case it directly affects or seriously jeopardizes the sound financial management of the Union budget or the protection of the Union’s financial interests. The agreed conditions are much stricter than the ones the Orbán government rejected in September, although there is an important area where the sanctions system has now softened. However, the Hungarian government (together with Poland) has already projected that in case of an agreement on a rule of law mechanism, they would veto the EU budget and the recovery fund which require unanimity, and that the Hungarian Parliament will actually block the acceptance of the latter.

Justice Minister Judit Varga responded to the news on her official Facebook page. According to Varga, the European Parliament should not blackmail the Hungarian government, and should rather deal with stopping the coronavirus epidemic spreading in EU countries.

Justice Minister Varga to FT: EU Should Focus on Terror Threat, Not Rule of Law
Justice Minister Varga to FT: EU Should Focus on Terror Threat, Not Rule of Law

Europe needs to “wake up from hypocrisy and start to talk about real problems: anti-Semitism, murders, and terrorist attacks in western Europe,” Justice Minister Judit Varga said in an interview with the Financial Times published on Tuesday. The European Union is scheduled to discuss curbing funding for member states seen as violating its values and […]Continue reading

She added that it is unacceptable that, despite the current epidemic situation and the serious challenges facing the European economy, the European Parliament will not stop blackmailing Hungary politically and ideologically. Varga said it is also unacceptable that Hungarian opposition MEPs are working against Hungary’s economic interests in Brussels, referring to Katalin Cseh, Momentum MEP, who was part of the negotiating committee of the EP.

Varga added that it would be better for the European Parliament to be part of the solution instead of the problem and not to jeopardize the adoption of the EU budget. Without it, the EU will not be able to help those Member States that need it most.

Magyarország álláspontja szerint az Európai Parlamentnek a járvánnyal és nem politikai, ideológiai vitákkal kellene…

Posted by Varga Judit on Thursday, 5 November 2020

According to Judit Varga, although the EP reported that they have agreed on the issue, it is not an agreement. In her Facebook post, the minister wrote that the Hungarian government would abide by the July agreement of the heads of states and governments. The justice minister added that the EP “wants to circumvent the treaties and break the historic budget deal, which is an irresponsible and erroneous move.”

Secretary of State for International Communication and Relations Zoltán Kovács also reacted to the news on his official Twitter account. Similarly to the justice minister, he also emphasized that “if the EP cannot help us defeat COVID-19 and restart the EU’s economy, at least it should not engage in the usual political-ideological blackmailing of member states.”

He added that “By waging an ideological war and delaying the adoption of the EU budget,” ie tying EU funds to the rule of law mechanism, the European Parliament is “essentially limiting the EU’s ability to provide support and help to those in need. This could put the lives of EU citizens in jeopardy.

State Secy Kovács: Rule of Law Debate Not about European Values but Politics and Ideology
State Secy Kovács: Rule of Law Debate Not about European Values but Politics and Ideology

Proponents of the idea of tying European Union budget allocations to member states’ respect for the rule of law are unable to define what that mechanism should be and are simply waging an ideological battle, Zoltan Kovács, the state secretary for international communications, wrote in an op-ed for Brussels-based news portal Euractiv. One of the […]Continue reading

Opposition politicians also reacted to the news. Anna Donáth, Momentum MEP, reported to the news on Twitter:

In this, the politician writes, they have won a serious victory against corrupt and anti-democratic governments.

With the new rule of law mechanism, we will have the means to protect tax payers’ money from people like Viktor Orbán,”

As Donáth and Justice Minister Varga also mentioned, Katalin Cseh, MEP of Momentum, was also a member of the EP negotiating delegation. A few minutes after the agreement, Cseh told the EUrologist: “A mechanism has been developed which, in addition to containing a very serious anti-corruption measure, also covers breaches of the rule of law. It can be said that, after many years, there is finally a guarantee in the hands of the European Union that can bind the payment of EU money to rule of law guarantees.”

Katalin Cseh added that it was very important to the EP that no action made it impossible for end-users, the final beneficiaries of the grants, to receive the amounts awarded. According to the politician, this agreement also clarified this, and the parties agreed on the details.

Other member’s of the European Parliament also reported on the agreement. Guy Verhofstadt tweeted, that an agreement was reached in the EP on a proper rule of law mechanism.

According to Verhofstadt, this ensures that there will be “no double standards, no excuses, no money will be given to would-be authoritarians.”

Vera Jourova, Vice President of the European Commission, who recently commented several times on the situation of the rule of law in Hungary, following the EC’s first ever Rule of Law report, said that she is “very happy to see this breakthrough” and congratulated everyone involved, adding that “this is an important milestone.”

Featured photo illustration by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI