The Hungarian government has reported the judiciary reform completed to the European Commission, and at the same time has submitted invoices for hundreds of millions of euros, which it expects to be paid – this was announced by the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, Gergely Gulyás, at the latest Government Briefing at the end of July, but Judit Varga, who has since been ousted as Minister, also patted her shoulders earlier, saying that the money could now come because the Fidesz government had done everything that „Brussels” expected for the disbursement of EU funds. I wish it were so. My reliable sources have confirmed that the European Commission is, in fact, not satisfied with the judicial reform and has recently put new questions to the Fidesz government about the implementation of the laws that have been passed, and until reassuring answers are given, the funds will remain frozen.
The fuss the Fidesz government is making about EU funds withheld because of rule of law problems is like an endless soap opera. Sometimes I sincerely feel sorry for Minister for Regional Development Tibor Navracsics for announcing to the public every two months another ‘I think it is possible’ date for the arrival of the funds. This prediction seems somewhat similar to the Prime Minister’s reality-bending: Orbán tends to promise that there is only one more turn to take before Canaan, that we only have to defeat one more enemy, one more natural disaster, Soros, Brussels, seven-headed dragon with one last great push, and then it will really be good for everyone, not just for them. Then after every last bend, there’s one last bend.
Navracsics is probably the last person to blame for the fact that there is still no agreement since he tirelessly roams the corridors of Brussels when he has to; he negotiates what he has to, and then in the end, in the Carmelite [Orbán’s office], they always decide on European expectations in a way that „who, we’d better ‘play it smart’, it has always worked so far”. Well, not this time.
The Kurutz momentum has run out, the European Union has seen through Orban’s methods and insists that they do what they have to do, not just in words and promises, but in deeds with consequences. They can say anything at the negotiating table, but if they do not follow it up with credible action, it is no longer enough. It would also be important to bring the issue of judicial reform to a satisfactory conclusion as soon as possible, because it would provide access to nearly EUR 13 billion in development funds (at least on paper), and would tick four of the 27 ‘super-milestones’ that need to be met.
It is also true that the green light for judicial reform would not solve everything immediately (it would not mean immediate access to the Recovery Fund money, for example) but it would certainly be a significant step in the right direction. And while the Fidesz government has ‘announced’ the reform, the European Commission is not, as far as I know, satisfied with the report that has been sent and the steps taken so far. According to my information from Brussels, the Orbán government is expected to provide further clarifications and guarantees on the implementation of the laws that have been passed, for example, on the budget of the National Council of the Judiciary. Whether the government can or will meet these expectations is not yet known.
In fact, there is much else we don’t yet know and that is a serious problem. As a matter of fact, the Fidesz government is playing ping-pong with the European Commission over the heads of the Hungarian people without either party providing any meaningful transparency in the process, so everyone can only assess the situation according to their own temperament and bubble: in the Fidesz mindset, the government has (already) done all it could and more, yet evil „Brussels” doesn’t pay; while the opposition view is that the government is trying to outsmart deals for no good reason and is stalling on making changes, which is why the EU money we are owed is still not coming in.
Needless to say, the last thing I believe is Fidesz propaganda, but I still find it equally problematic that the EU institutions do not seek the widest possible transparency in their dealings with the Hungarian Government, either. In order to ensure that there are no misunderstandings or misleading statements in this matter, which is worth thousands of billions of forints, I have written to the relevant members of the Hungarian Government, Ministers Navracsics and Bóka – and also to the European Commission – asking them to give the Hungarian electorate a full and credible account of the Brussels expectations and how they have been met so far.
They could start, for example, with the document that the Orbán government recently sent to the European Commission on the implementation of the expected amendments to the foundation-based universities. We do not know what was reported in this document and how. Months ago, the government said that it had ‘agreed in five minutes’ to settle the problematic issue of Erasmus, but thousands of students and researchers are still in limbo. At the very least, a ‘national government’ should be expected to respect its own nation enough not to cheat it, not to fill its heads with lies and to be honest about its actions that affect them. So it is time to be accountable to the Hungarian people, not just with fine-sounding and unverified claims. We are waiting.
dr. István Ujhelyi
Member of the European Parliament / Founder of the Community of Chance