The European Commission has decided to launch an unprecedented procedure against Hungary to suspend the payment of European funds in the event of a violation of the principles of the rule of law. European Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn “spoke today with the Hungarian authorities and informed them that we will now send the letter of formal notice to activate the mechanism. This triggers a procedure with specific deadlines., announced on Tuesday, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, before the European Parliament. His statement was greeted with applause from MEPs.
She did not specify what the contents of this letter were. In a previous letter, sent to Budapest in November, the Commission had however expressed its concerns about problems with the award of public contracts, conflicts of interest and corruption. The issue of corruption is also the reason for the Commission’s blocking of the Hungarian recovery plan.
A suspension or reduction of payments must be proposed
The mechanism activated against Hungary allows the Commission to deprive of European funds a country where violations of the rule of law are observed which “harm or threaten to harm” to the financial interests of the EU, “in a sufficiently direct manner”. A suspension or reduction of payments must be proposed by the Commission and endorsed by at least 15 Member States.
Poland and Hungary had filed an appeal with the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to annul this mechanism. The Twenty-Seven had pledged that it would not be activated until the justice of the Union had pronounced itself. The CJEU validated the procedure on February 16, paving the way for its implementation.
The mechanism applies to funds paid under the European budget, which constitute significant sums for these two countries – they are among the main net beneficiaries of European funds – as well as to post-Covid recovery plans. Those of Poland and Hungary have still not been approved.
For months, the European Parliament had been growing impatient and had even lodged an appeal for inaction against the Commission. “The European Parliament now expects the Commission to quickly apply the conditionality mechanism”had reacted the president of this assembly, the Maltese Roberta Metsola, after the decision of the CJEU.
The President of the Commission then promised to act “with determination”, but the holding, on April 3, of legislative elections in Hungary, complicated the situation for Brussels, which feared being accused of interference. The European Commission’s announcement comes two days after a fourth election victory in a row for sovereigntist leader Viktor Orban in Hungary.