For the first time in nearly three decades, the European Economic Area (EEA) was unable to issue a final declaration at its latest meeting, as Hungary refused to sign it, presumably in revenge against Norway for the withdrawal of its EUR 215 million worth of Norway Grants, Népszava reports.
Representatives of the EEA countries (including EU member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) meet twice a year in the Belgian capital to review their relationships and decide on key issues for cooperation. At the end of these meetings, a joint statement is usually adopted by unanimous vote.
This time, however, the Orbán-led government decided to block the adoption of such a final declaration on the development of cooperation at Wednesday’s meeting of the EEA, Népszava reported, citing diplomatic sources. Later, other press reports confirmed Népszava‘s information.
Analysts say the move is probably a political message and could be a payback from the Orbán-led government to Norway which denied Hungary’s access to funds from the Norway Grants for the 2014-2020 budget cycle.
“The Hungarians have held the joint declaration hostage in order to influence their bilateral dispute with Norway on the Norway Grants. They have blocked all roads to compromise,” a diplomat who asked to remain anonymous told Népszava.
Oslo announced in August that Hungary lost the EUR 215 million (HUF 77 billion) worth of Norwegian funds after the deadline for negotiations on the financial aid’s disbursement expired.
The Norway and EEA Grants were originally established because Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein are not members of the European Union, but have access to the EU single market in return for the three countries’ financial contributions. The agreement with the EU stipulates that part of this aid must be used to develop the economies and civil sectors of the ‘newly’ acceded EU countries in central Europe.
But Hungary and Norway were unable to reach a deal over which civil organization would distribute a smaller segment of the grants intended for civil society (about 5 percent of the total sum).
This part of the aid is strictly prohibited to be distributed by the state; instead, an independent fund manager must be selected based on an open tender and transparent set of criteria.
At the time, Norway’s foreign ministry said that the Hungarian government refused to accept the best candidate for the task and therefore turned down the entire sum of money. According to press reports, the candidate would have been Hungarian NGO Ökotárs Foundation. The Orbán-led government, however, described the foundation as a “Soros organisation” and stressed that it would have been willing to accept any other candidate except for Ökotárs.
The Orbán administration said Norway owed Hungary this money and they would use all means to get the money back. The Hungarian government even promised to take legal action over the issue.
Featured photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI