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Hungary appears confident it can prevent €7.5B cut in EU funds

Budapest was confident on Monday that it would be able to prevent a reduction in EU funds as called for by the Commission over rule of law concerns.

The EU’s executive on Sunday urged the Council to approve a €7.5 billion cut in cohesion funds to Hungary.

This, the Commission said, is the next step in the conditionality mechanism procedure it triggered against Hungary in April.

But Brussels also left the door open to a compromise, adding that if Budapest proceeds as scheduled with the 17 remedial measures it negotiated with the Commission the procedure could be stopped.

The measures include efforts to strengthen the process of awarding public contracts, eradicate conflict of interest among government officials and address weaknesses in the investigation and prosecution of cases regarding EU funds.

Tibor Navracsics, Hungarian Minister for Regional Development, told reporters that “this means, first of all, that no new negotiations are needed” to end the conditionality mechanism procedure against the country.

“And it also means that if Hungary fulfils the agreements and commitments reached in the negotiations, the Council’s decision to sanction will not be adopted,” he added. 

‘About time’

In Brussels, however, reactions were somewhat more cautious.

Swedish MEP Malin Björk (The Left) told Euronews that “it was about time that the Commission takes resolute action against the corruption and dismantling of democracy in Hungary.”

“I welcome this proposal from the Commission, which is in line with the European Parliament´s call to stop EU funding until Hungary no longer violates article 2 of the Treaty,” she added.

But her Greens/EFA colleague from Germany, Daniel Freund, said the Commission “should have frozen all the European funds for now because we know that all programmes and all budget lines are targets of corruption of Orban, his friends and family.”

“And then of course what we need is an ambitious plan to repair the rule of law, to repair the spending of money in Hungary so there is no more corruption. But also there are huge issues with democracy and free media. So we finally need a decisive action from the Commission to make sure that Hungary becomes a democracy again,” he also told Euronews.

For the punitive measure to go through, it first needs to be approved at the Council level by a qualified majority.

Although a much easier threshold to attain than unanimity — Poland and Hungary have in the past protected each other from possible EU sanctions — it remains unclear whether most member states would vote to punish Budapest.

Portuguese MEP José M. Fernandes from the EPP Group took to Twitter after the Commission’s announcement on Sunday to state that “respecting the rule of law is not an option: it is an obligation” and to offer his “congratulations to the European Commission.”

“Let’s hope the Member States don’t block it!” he went on. “The Council must decide without delay. Be reminded that, for the proposal of the Commission to be approved, only qualified majority is needed. So now we will find out who effectively stands up for the rule of law.”

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