Wednesday, 4 Aug 2021

Brussels set to punish Hungary by blocking £6.1bn coronavirus handout in row over EU rules

Hungary: Krichbaum grilled on 'sickening' authoritarian rule

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Sources have indicated the European Commission will not endorse Budapest’s spending plans before the July 12 deadline. Eurocrats have so far been cautious in linking spending to respect for the EU’s rule of law principles. But they are set to announce that Hungary’s proposal fails to satisfy at least two assessment criteria related to anti-corruption measures, according to the Politico website.

Under the rules for the EU’s £644billion pandemic recovery fund, nations must address “all or a significant subset” of Country Specific Recommendations through a series of reforms and implementation of monitoring against “conflicts of interest, corruption and fraud and to avoid double funding”.

Budapest was told to “reinforce the anti-corruption framework, including by improving prosecutorial efforts and access to public information, and strengthen judicial independence”.

The European Commission said the assessment of Hungary’s plan is still ongoing.

A spokesman added: “Notably an assessment of whether the measures address the challenges identified in the country specific recommendations or a significant subset of it; and whether the plans provide an adequate control and audit mechanism.”

It comes as MEPs have called on Brussels to withhold money from Budapest.

Prime minister Viktor Orban’s government is not a “reliable steward” of EU funds, a report commission by a group of euro politicians said.

The report says the EU Commission has grounds to activate its new rule-of-law mechanisms to block payments to Hungary.

It states that the central European state has failed to oversee the transparent management of funds, insufficient national prosecutorial services and inadequate judicial indepedence.

Mr Orban’s government has “already egregiously violated basic rule of law principles” as set out by the EU’s conditionality rules.

It “cannot be a reliable steward of EU funds until these problems are corrected”, according to authors, Kim Lane Scheppele of Princeton University, R Daniel Kelemen of Rutgers University and John Morijn of the University of Groningen.

They concluded: “The commission should therefore immediately trigger the conditionality regulation with regard to Hungary.”

The report was commissioned by Green MEP Daniel Freund.

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It has the backing of multiple MEPs from a wide range of groups in the EU Parliament.

German MEP Terry Reintke said: “We really need to end this theatre play.

“We don’t need any more delaying tactics, we don’t need commissioners being very concerned by the rule of law, we need action.”

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EU budget commissioner Johannes Hahn has defended Brussels’ processes and moved to reassure MEPs that action could be taken.

“Notification letters will be sent without any delay as soon as we have gathered concrete evidence that the conditions required by the regulation are met,” he said.

The Commission must to prove there is a direct link between any rule-of-law breach and the risk to EU funds.

Mr Hahn added: “Be reassured, we will act, but we will act in a way that finally we will be successful.”

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