The Hungarian government must recover the trust it had squandered
Reacting to the decision of the Council of the EU to suspend EU funds to Hungary for systemic rule of law breaches, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, K-Monitor and Transparency International Hungary call on the Hungarian government to ensure full compliance with rule of law standards to enable the entire Hungarian society to benefit from EU funds.
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Member States have agreed to freeze 55 percent, EUR 6.3 billion of three significant Hungarian operative programmes in the 2021-2027 EU budget in the framework of the rule of law conditionality mechanism meant to protect the EU budget against serious rule of law breaches. Hungary will receive the funds only when it fully implements the 17 remedial measures it had agreed on with the European Commission. According to the Commission’s November 30 assessment, the measures adopted by the government so far are affected by significant weaknesses. Member States have now confirmed that the current state of anti-corruption reforms in Hungary are insufficient to close the conditionality mechanism without sanctions. K-Monitor, TI Hungary, and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee came to a similar conclusion in November.
Member States also reached an agreement about Hungary’s plan for Recovery and Resilience Facilities (RRF), through which the country could obtain a further EUR 5.8 billion of grants and loans, if it fulfills all of the 27 milestones aimed at preventing corruption and strengthening the independence of the judiciary in Hungary.
The ball is now in the government’s court while the fate of over EUR 12 billion is still uncertain. Hungary is in dire need of EU funds to modernize its railway and public transport system, build an eco-friendly energy system, develop its public and higher education systems, and improve health care for Hungarian society. In sum, to make Hungary a more livable, competitive, and safer place for its citizens.
The suspension of EU funds and tying them to strict rule of law conditions is yet another proof that people can only trust a state that serves the public interest and plays fair. Trust is the easiest thing to lose, and the hardest thing to regain. This is a lesson that the government must learn.
However, the decision to tie EU funds to rule of law compliance criteria did not require the Hungarian government to introduce changes that would shake the institutional and procedural fundaments of the captured, illiberal state, or to promise sweeping reforms to ensure comprehensive and effective protection against corruption. For example, Hungary can continue to not participate in the European Public Prosecutor’s Office and it did not have to enhance protection for whistleblowers. Actors fighting against corruption and for the rule of law in Hungary will still have their work cut out for them.
The Council decision also presents an opportunity for human rights defending organizations to step up civilian oversight efforts over the functioning of state institutions in Hungary. This is the main reason why K-Monitor and TI Hungary decided to join the Anti-Corruption Task Force attached to the new Integrity Authority, which started its operations this week. This is what inspires these NGOs to test the effectiveness of the new laws and institutions established in the framework of the agreed anti-corruption reform during the upcoming months. And this is what has been driving the Hungarian Helsinki Committee for many years to relentlessly monitor and reveal political maneuvers endangering judicial independence and the rule of law in Hungary.
Thorough civil society and institutional control over the government does not slow down and hamper access to the suspended EU funds — rather it facilitates Hungary’s access to them. Our common interest is to make sure that EU funds benefit all Hungarians and are used fairly, transparently and appropriately where they is most needed. This is what serves the public interest and the development of our society.