Several members of the European Parliament urged the Commission to take an even tougher stance against Hungary and expressed worries about the state of the rule of law. Allies of the Hungarian government accused the Parliament of waging an ideological war.
The European Parliament held another plenary debate about the rule of law in Hungary on Tuesday, the second in a month.
Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn spoke about the “17 remedial measures” submitted by Hungary’s government to address the risks to the EU budget – such as changes to public procurement law and an independent anti-corruption task force –, which he welcomed as “important commitments in the right direction” and “constructive engagement”. The Austrian official said that the Commission will reassess after 19 November to determine whether Hungary is taking steps to introduce these measures in the relevant laws and to implement them accordingly.
Last month, the Commission proposed budget protection measures to the Council under the conditionality regulation. The Brussels body proposed the suspension of 65 percent (7.5 billion euros) of the commitments for three operational programs under the cohesion policy.
The majority of the MEPs who represented the Parliament’s political mainstream voiced their concerns that Hungary’s remedial measures will not be actual reforms but just “empty promises” to escape the budget cuts. „How on earth are you going to assess that the changes Hungary makes will be enough to reduce the risk to the EU budget before we actually see any implementation on the ground?” Finnish MEP Petri Sarvamaa (European People’s Party) asked.
According to Belgian liberal (Renew) MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld the proposed freeze of funds is a good step but by far not enough, and Viktor Orbán’s government is only willing to do “cosmetic changes”.
German green MEP Daniel Freund accused the Commission of “dismantling” the rule of law mechanism, which he called a very powerful tool. He pointed out that the 7.5 billion euros is only 15 percent of all the various EU funds that Hungary receives, “so the lion’s share goes untouched and into a corrupt system”.
Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, the French green MEP who authored the recent report which urged the further withholding of Hungary’s EU funds, accused the Commission of not dealing with the situation in Hungary and called the government’s proposals “tweaks”.
Several speakers in the debate, however, stood by Hungary. Jadwiga Wisniewska, an MEP from Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party called certain MEPs “shameless”. “In the face of rampant inflation in the European Union, high energy prices caused by the European Union’s energy dependence on Russia, and the war in Ukraine, you are constantly dealing with Hungary month after month,” she said. “You are already threatening Commissioner Hahn that he will be dismissed because he does not meet your expectations. You would like to starve Hungary! Starve Poland!,” Wisniewska said, referring to earlier comments by the EP’s German social-democrat Vice-President, Katarina Barley.
Italian MEP Paolo Borchia, a politician of the Lega party said that the EU’s current leadership is the last who has the right to lecture member states about democracy.
“Either you vote how we tell you or you will suffer the consequences – this is going to be the new motto of the Commission and the Parliament,” Spanish MEP Jorge Buxadé said. “Enough of using the institutions to contaminate electoral processes in the member states and impose their ideological agenda!” the politician of the VOX party said.
Hungarian MEPs also took the floor. Csaba Molnár, an MEP of the opposition Democratic Coalition said that his party did not support the government’s new proposals in the Hungarian parliament. “These proposals only serve to dazzle the European Commission,” he said, adding that it is all “just a charade, just a sham”.
“What we see now are only promises of minor reform by the Orbán government – a government that has shown over and over again that they are not acting in good faith, that they create institutions just to hollow them out when it is comfortable for them and they go back on their promises in a matter of a few days,” Katalin Cseh, an MEP of the opposition Momentum party said.
“The extremist MPs sitting here continue to engage in ideological blackmail and division. They are making the most absurd accusations, together with Hungarian left-wing MEPs, just to ensure that the Hungarian people do not receive the funds they are entitled to,” Balázs Hidvéghi, an MEP of Hungary’s governing Fidesz party said. “Fair negotiations between Hungary and the European Commission have led to an agreement on the use of EU funds. There is not a single technical or legal issue that has not been resolved, but you do not care what measures we implement, because you are carrying out a political mission, the aim of which is – in your own words – to starve Hungary and all other governments pursuing conservative national policies,” he went on.
Featured photo of Johannes Hahn via the European Parliament