The EU executive launched a never-before-used procedure against Hungary on Tuesday that could see the Hungarian government stripped of EU funding for failing to fight corruption and flouting democratic standards.
The move comes two days after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was re-elected by an overwhelming majority, claiming his victory as a victory over the liberal values championed by Brussels.
The nationalist and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin is frequently accused in Brussels of backsliding on democratic standards.
The European Commission “will now send the formal notification letter to launch the conditionality mechanism”, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said to applause during a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, in France.
Latest clash with Hungary over its public procurement system, conflicts of interest and corruption and could see Budapest lose EU money if approved by a super majority of 27 member states .
Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, urged the European Commission “not to punish Hungarian voters for expressing an opinion that is not to Brussels’ liking” during the election.
“Brussels is wrong”, he added, “the fundamental rules of democracy must be accepted by the Commission”.
Gulyas urged the European Union to “return to common sense and dialogue”.
Regularly criticized by the EU for undermining the rule of law, Orban lashed out at “Brussels bureaucrats” in his victory speech after winning a fourth term.
The conditionality mechanism was created in 2020, after a summit at the height of the coronavirus pandemic agreed on common borrowing to build an 800 billion euro ($900 billion) stack of grants and loans for EU countries to recover.
Budget hawks, including the Netherlands and the Nordics, demanded the conditionality mechanism to put guardrails around the spending of taxpayers’ money.
– “Since a long time” –
Hungary and Poland challenged the new procedure in the EU’s highest court. But the European Court of Justice gave the green light in February to its use, saying that the European Union “must be able to defend these values”.
The commission has been under pressure from the European Parliament to apply the conditionality mechanism against Poland and Hungary. The legislator launched a legal action to make act the commission.
“It is long overdue. The Hungarian government’s failure to manage public money transparently is well known and documented,” said French MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield.
“How can a member state use EU funds properly when the independence of the judiciary has been destroyed and there are no sufficient safeguards against corruption? she added.
The use of the mechanism adds to a long list of other proceedings the commission has taken on rule of law issues against Hungary and Poland, including court-ordered fines.
The issue of corruption is also the reason for the commission’s blocking of the Hungarian recovery plan, worth 7.2 billion euros in European subsidies.