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Rule of LawHungary

EU triggers rule of law procedure against Hungary

April 27, 2022

The legal tool, which has never been used before, could see Hungary stripped of its EU funding for breaching the bloc's democratic standards.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Hungary's Viktor Orban has repeatedly clashed with the EU over democratic principles and allegations Hungary is eroding judicial and media independenceImage: John Thys/AP Photo/picture alliance

The EU has officially launched its rule-of-law mechanism against the Hungarian government  on Wednesday, after the EU Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen slammed "corruption" in the EU country earlier this month.

The move could see funds for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban frozen over rule of law breaches.

"We identified issues that might be breaching the rule of law in Hungary and affect the EU budget," said a deputy head of the Brussels-based Commission, Vera Jourova.

"Hungary will have to reply to our concerns and propose remedial measures," she added.

Budapest will have a two-month deadline to respond the move.

What is happening in Hungary?

Jourova did not provide details on the issues between Brussels and Budapest. However, the EU Commission has been at loggerheads with Hungary's conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban amid claims of his government misusing EU money and breaking the bloc's laws. Many observers also believe Orban is attempting to put courts and media under government's control.

Hungarian officials prompted outrage across the bloc last summer with its new law on LGBTQ+ groups.

In November, the EU's top court shot down another law, which punished people who help asylum-seekers. It was also known the "Stop Soros" law — a reference to the Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and US-based billionaire George Soros.

Orban's Fidesz party has repeatedly targeted Soros in their campaigns and accused him of hiring media "mercenaries" to take down Orban's government.

More recently, Orban broke with the EU by saying he would be glad to pay for Russian gas in rubles.

Earlier this month, a Fidesz-led coalition secured an absolute majority at a parliamentary vote, putting Orban on track for a fourth term.

What does the EU move mean?

The mechanism allows Brussels to withhold funds from member states if the country in question commits violations including curtailing  judicial independence or eroding the separation of powers. However, those violations must also pose a threat to derail the flow of EU funds.

The EU Commission then has the option to submit a proposal to the European Council. At least 15 out of 27 EU countries, representing at least  65% of the bloc's population must agree to the move for it to pass.

If the EU Commission secures enough support, Hungary could face major cuts in EU funding, although the procedure can take months before its complete.

The Wednesday announcement marks the first time the EU has ever used this legal option. It only went into force in January 2021 after facing resistance from Budapest and Warsaw.

Last summer, the EU suspended payments from its pandemic recovery funds to the tune of €7.2 billion ($7.9 billion) to both Hungary and Poland over widely perceived democratic backsliding and corruption.

dj/rs (Reuters, AFP)

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