Hungary has reached an agreement with the EU on reforms to strengthen judicial independence demanded by Brussels in order to unlock billions in Covid recovery funds, an EU source said Thursday (10 November).
Hungary — led by the right-wing prime minister and frequent scourge of Brussels Viktor Orban — is the only one of the EU’s 27 member states that have still not had its post-pandemic funds disbursed by the bloc’s executive arm.
Brussels has refused to green-light doling out Budapest’s €5.8-billion slice of the money over concerns on corruption and the rule of law that have long plagued its relations with Orban.
Hungary had risked losing 70 per cent of its allocation if the package was not validated by the end of the year.
An EU source said that Budapest has now finally “accepted” conditions set by the European Commission on judicial reforms.
They must be put in place by March 2023, failing which the money would not be paid, the source said.
Hungary has also adopted anti-corruption measures in recent months, another requirement of Brussels to release the funds.
The agreed reforms provide for appointments to key positions in the judiciary to be made through the National Judicial Council, an independent body that would see its role strengthened.
Among other measures, according to the same source, the Hungarian government would no longer be able to challenge court decisions before the “politically elected” Constitutional Court, and the Supreme Court would no longer be able to prevent Hungarian judges from consulting the EU Court of Justice.
A European Commission meeting on 22 November is expected to discuss the Hungarian recovery plan, according to another source in Brussels.
Brussels’s concerns about corruption in Hungary have separately led the commission to launch an unprecedented case against Budapest, threatening to suspend the payment of another 7.5 billion euros in EU funds to the country.
The commission is due to assess this month whether Hungary’s anti-corruption measures are sufficient to escape the cut-off, and the final decision will be taken by the member states in December.