The impasse between the EU and Hungary over access to the bloc’s post-pandemic recovery funds remains, despite moves by Hungarian lawmakers this week to adopt new laws to address EU rule of law concerns.
On Wednesday (3 May), lawmakers in Budapest adopted an amendment aimed at strengthening the independence of the judicial system by restoring most of the powers to the independent National Judicial Council, which had been shifted to the government-backed National Judicial Service, one of the reforms by Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz government which prompted EU concerns about the rule of law in Hungary.
“Hungary has now fulfilled its commitments regarding the administration of justice. We expect Brussels to pay EU funds due to Hungary,” said Justice Minister Judit Varga after the vote.
However, in a letter to EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, Amnesty International Hungary, the Eötvös Károly Institute and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee stated that while “the adoption of the judicial reform package is essential for Hungary to gain access to EU funds; however, the current legislative process fails to meet the milestones’ requirements of public transparency and consultations.”
Commission officials said on Thursday that Hungary must do more to address a series of policy ‘milestones’ before the funds will be released.
The European Commission has been in a long-running dispute with Budapest over rule of law concerns, the resolution of which is a condition for Hungary to be able to access the portion of the Recovery and Resilience Fund allocated to it.
Last December, the Commission froze almost €22 billion which had been earmarked for Hungary over the seven-year EU budget period between 2021 and 2027. Hungary also wants to unblock €5.8bn in grants from the EU’s €800bn NextGenerationEU recovery programme.
Vera Jourova, European Commission vice-president for values and transparency, described the vote by the Hungarian parliament as a “very good step forward”. But told reporters that it was “too early” to release EU funding without further clarity about the EU’s other concerns.
The EU executive is also under pressure from the European Parliament to take a tough stance against Hungary.
In April, political group leaders representing over 70% of the European Parliament urged the European Commission to deny Hungary’s request for any more EU recovery funds on the grounds that it has not complied with over twenty “super milestones” relating to rule of law issues.
The Commission is also withholding payments because of a Hungarian anti-LGBTQ law that the EU institutions and most of the bloc’s member states have filed a case against at the European Court of Justice on the grounds that it discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]
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