European Commission unblocks over 10bn euros in funds for Hungary
The European Commission unblocked more than 10 billion euros in cohesion funds for Hungary on Wednesday evening despite opposition from MEPs. According to the Commission, Budapest has taken the required measures to improve the independence of the judiciary.
"We have sufficient guarantees to say that the independence of the judiciary in Hungary will be strengthened," said EU Justice commissioner Didier Reynders, explaining the decision. "We will continue to monitor the situation closely and react quickly if it deteriorates."
The Commission had blocked around 22 billion euros in funds for Hungary late last year for failing to meet a number of conditions related to fundamental rights. Since then, Budapest has taken steps, including strengthening the powers of the court management regulator and reducing the risk of political influence on the Supreme Court's court. Hungary can now request repayments amounting to 10.2 billion euros.
Resentment from parliament
The decision, however, has been met with disdain both inside and outside Hungary. Hungarian civil society groups who monitor judicial independence say the government hasn’t fully met the criteria, and political groups in the European Parliament expressed concern ahead of the decision earlier today in a letter to Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. They worry that this will set a precedent for other European leaders to barter important legislation for funding.
Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo has said he wants to engage with Orbán but warns against "horse-trading". "We are not here in some kind of Hungarian bazaar where one thing can be exchanged for another," he said on Wednesday evening before the start of a summit between European leaders and their counterparts from the Western Balkans.
De Croo reiterated the importance of European unity. "If we leave too much space between us, that space will be abused by those who are wrong about us and who are waging a terrible war today," he said. He said there had been times when it had seemed challenging to close ranks but that it had always worked. "I assume it will be possible this time, too," he said.
Ukraine's accession will not happen in the near future, but De Croo believes it is essential to reward Kyiv for the work the government has done in times of war to move towards membership. "Ukraine has shown that it wants to respect the rule of law and democratic values. This is perhaps a small lesson for Mr Orbán, who is being quite creative with this himself anyway," he said.
The Commission's decision to unblock funds for Hungary comes ahead of a crucial European summit on Thursday and Friday, where Orbán has been threatening to block new financial aid for Ukraine and the opening of accession negotiations with the country.
© PHOTO FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP