EU Commission urged to reject Hungary’s Covid recovery plan
The European Commission is being urged to reject a coronavirus recovery plan for Hungary over concerns about fraud, corruption and the country’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights.
A cross-party group of left and liberal MEPs have written to the Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, demanding she send the Hungarian government back to the drawing board over its spending plans for a €7.2bn (£6.19bn) coronavirus recovery grant.
The commission last month began to sign off national plans from EU member states to spend their shares of a €750bn Covid recovery fund, as it embarks on an exercise in joint borrowing seen as a historic step for EU integration.
Hungary has requested €7.2bn in grants under the scheme, which it is thought would be the largest single transfer of EU funds since it joined the union in 2004.
Longstanding allegations about fraud and nepotism linked to the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, have alarmed MEPs, especially as his government has not acted on previous recommendations from Brussels on securing the independence of judges, improving transparency and anti-corruption.
“Respect for the rule of law and sound financial management are key components of successful recovery in Europe,” states the letter signed by seven MEPs from Green, Liberal, Social Democrat and radical Left parties. “Citizens must be fully assured that the money of taxpayers is invested properly and not used to undermine the foundations of the EU.”
The letter has not been signed by any politician from Europe’s largest political family, the centre-right European People’s Party, although Orbán’s Fidesz party quit the group last year, shortly before its likely expulsion.
Stressing that the demand to tear up Hungary’s recovery plan is not aimed at the Hungarian people, the MEPs say the Orbán government should be made to rewrite its submission in order to benefit from EU funds.
As well as concerns about corruption, the MEPs highlighted a recently adopted Hungarian law that bans the depiction of gay people in educational materials and entertainment content for minors, a law condemned by von der Leyen as “a shame … [that] clearly discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation”.
Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, a French Green MEP who monitors the rule of law in Hungary, said: “It is extremely concerning that the recent law scapegoating LGBTIQ people could be exacerbated with recovery funds earmarked for education and healthcare. It’s simply unacceptable that any recovery money might be used to support Fidesz’s strategy to dismantle the rule of law and fundamental rights.”
Worries about misuse of the EU’s massive recovery fund were a bitter point during marathon negotiations between EU leaders in agreeing the money a year ago.
Concerns are not confined to Hungary. The EU’s new chief prosecutor described Slovenia as “a huge risk” because it will start to receive EU recovery funds without having appointed a national prosecutor to investigate cases of suspected fraud against the European budget.
Laura Codruța Kövesi, the head of the newly created European Public Prosecutor’s Office, told Politico there had been “a manifest lack of sincere” cooperation from Slovenian authorities that will “influence a lot the efficiency” of her organisation. EPPO, the first EU body to handle criminal prosecutions, is charged with investigating corruption and suspected fraud of European funds.
But not all member states have signed up, with Hungary a notable absentee. Slovenia, which has just begun six months in charge of the EU’s rotating presidency, has joined the EPPO, but failed to appoint a national prosecutor to work for the body as required.