NGOs: Hungary’s judicial package reform failed to address EU requirements

NGOs: Hungary’s judicial package reform failed to address EU requirements |

Hungary has failed to adequately address the EU’s concerns around the judicial package, which risks billions of Euros in much-awaited EU funds, several NGOs, including Amnesty International Hungary, said.

The Hungarian parliament has voted in favour of a bill initially intended to amend a part of the judicial reform necessary for Hungary to unlock its EU funds from the recovery plan. However, NGOs such as Amnesty International Hungary and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee said that even if the past bill includes positive elements, it fails to adequately address the rule of law problems identified by the EU.

The shortcomings in the Hungarian judicial system have been at the heart of a dispute between Brussels and Budapest over the rule of law that blocks €22 billion in cohesion funds for Hungary. Although the Hungarian budget cannot receive part of this amount for other reasons, an agreement on the rule of law issue could free up around €13 billion.

The organisations say that the revised proposal, passed in parliament with 151 votes in favour and 23 abstentions, has some positive points but does not go far enough.

While the new bill grants more effective control powers to the National Judicial Council, the self-governing body of judges, and strengthens its powers of appeal, it still needs to address the possibility of Hungarian judges appealing to the EU Court of Justice on sensitive issues.

At the same time, there are concerns about the president of the highest court, Curia, possibly also being elected president of the National Judicial Council.

The Hungarian government submitted its first reform proposal for public consultation in January, but neither the National Judicial Council nor – according to leaked information – the European Commission were satisfied.

Earlier in April, Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga announced that a “technical agreement” had been reached with the European Commission on a version of the proposal that was intended to be final. However, the Commission was more cautious and pointed out that the proposal still had to be approved by a “college” of all commissioners and the Commission president.

EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders also declared on Tuesday that the Hungarian government will still have some work to do once the law is adopted and that until then, the case cannot even be submitted to the Commission for political approval.

The Commission will not only wait for the law to enter into force but also wants to see the implementation of several measures related to its content, including the practice of allocating cases to the Curia, and the provision of the necessary budget for the functioning of the National Judicial Council, said Reynders.

He added that the outstanding issues could be settled by the end of June or early July and that the College of Commissioners would only discuss the Hungarian judicial package after that date at the earliest.

On the Hungarian side, however, the government considers they have fulfilled the conditions and that it “will be able to send invoices to Brussels in a month, which we hope will be settled”, according to the Minister to the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office, Gergely Gulyás.

Next week, a delegation from the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control will visit Hungary from 15-17 May, where they will meet Hungarian Regional Development Minister Tibor Navracsics, the president of the Hungarian State Audit Office, László Windisch, Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony, as well as investigative journalists.

The delegation will spend two days learning about the progress of the rule of law investigation launched on the grounds of corruption risk and will be looking at the activities of the Hungarian authorities monitoring the use of EU funds, as well as assessing whether Hungary will be able to properly use the financial resources from the EU budget and the reconstruction fund.

(Charles Szumski | with Telex)

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