EU backs down to Hungary despite Orban's clamp down on Brussels in election 'propaganda'

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EU backs down to Hungary despite Orban's clamp down on Brussels in election 'propaganda'

European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said Brussels will refrain from issuing financial penalties to Hungary before the country's general e

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European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said Brussels will refrain from issuing financial penalties to Hungary before the country’s general election. The Commissioner told Politico that Brussels will be waiting for a judgement by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on the legality of the bloc’s rule of law mechanism which is expected on February 16.

An extensive round of negotiations between the EU and Hungary will follow, pushing the decision to only after the April elections, Mr Raynders said.

The move was criticised by Green MEP Daniel Freund, who said Commission President Ursula von der Leyen “seems to be preparing the next excuse not to trigger the rule-of-law mechanism, by saying Brussels does not want to intervene in an election”.

He added: “But the real interference is if the EU continues paying money into the coffers of [Viktor] Orban and his cronies, whose support he relies on.”

Hungarian opposition MEP István Ujhelyi also criticised the decision as he told Politico Mr Orban will deflect blame and gather support ahead of the election by claiming the EU is fighting family values.

He said: “Orban activated and mobilised the entire propaganda system and does everything in order to deliver a massive campaign against the European Union and Brussels.”

The backing down comes after Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn said on Tuesday that the EU could propose freezing funds to both Poland and Hungary over concerns for the rule of law before the election.

He said: “We have to act according to guidelines and rules and we cannot look at election dates.”

Poland and Hungary have fallen foul of a new EU regulation that links the disbursement of funds from the 27-nation bloc’s long-term budget to respect for the rule of law.

The law, in place since the start of 2021, gives the Commission teeth in its battles over democratic values with nationalist and eurosceptic governments in both countries, after years of diplomatic pressure produced no results.

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The Commission has already separately frozen billions of euros in grants to Budapest and Warsaw from its post-pandemic recovery fund, citing the same concerns.

It believes both countries fall short of fundamental EU standards – because Poland’s judiciary is no longer independent, and because it has found that much of the EU money used for public procurement in Hungary goes to suppliers linked to the ruling Fidesz party.

Both mean EU funds could be spent improperly.

Last November, the Commission asked both governments to clarify how they planned to address its concerns.

Mr Hahn said the Commission had received no answer from Poland by Monday’s deadline and would now send a reminder.

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Hungary had until midnight on Tuesday.

Both countries have challenged the regulation in the EU’s top court and a verdict is expected in February.

If the court sides with its advocate general, who last year recommended throwing out the challenge, the Commission will be free to act.

EU officials said they did not expect any Polish and Hungarian replies to break new ground because there have been no legal changes in either country to address the EU’s concerns.

If the Commission is not satisfied with the responses, it will have one month to prepare its proposal to freeze EU money to Poland and Hungary, and EU governments will then have a month to approve it with a qualified majority vote.



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