On Tuesday, Members of the European Parliament warned the Commission against falling short of protecting the EU’s financial interests in Hungary.
“This is the first time the rule of law mechanism is being put into motion and it requires member states to treat it in a careful manner”, said EU Affairs Minister Mikuláš Bek, opening the debate on behalf of the Czech Presidency. EU Ambassadors will discuss the matter at tomorrow’s meeting, he added, assuring MEPs that the Council will play its role in protecting the EU budget.
Budgets Commissioner Johannes Hahn pointed to the “17 remedial measures” submitted by Hungary to address the risks to the European Union budget, such as changes to public procurement law and an independent anti-corruption task force, which he welcomed as “important commitments in the right direction” and “constructive engagement”. However, he said that the Commission will reassess after 19 November if Hungary is taking steps to introduce these measures in the relevant laws and to implement them accordingly.
Most MEPs welcomed the Commission’s proposals for action and called on Council to take a swift decision and to freeze 7.5 billion euro for Hungary, as proposed. A majority of speakers voiced their concerns that Hungary’s remedial measures will not be actual reforms but just “empty promises” to escape the budget cuts. They insisted that the Commission should look for robust proof and carefully verify the reforms enacted and “not accept compromises as a rule of law guarantee, just because Orban is suggesting them”.
Some MEPs suggested that the measures proposed by the Commission were not enough, as they concerned only 15% of all EU funds channelled to Hungary. They accused the Commission of “negotiating” on the rule of law and of “half-hearted application” of the rule of law conditionality. Some even warned that if the Commission “bows to Hungary”, it risks losing Parliament’s confidence.
On the other hand, other MEPs accused the Commission of “only attacking the conservative governments of Europe”, and imposing “Brussels ideology” on the Hungarian people and the democratically elected government of Hungary, while overlooking similar rule of law, judiciary and corruption issues in other EU countries.
You can re-watch the debate here.