To: Ms Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission
Budapest, 13 February 2021
Dear President von der Leyen,
During this week’s plenary session, the European Parliament took a remarkable step towards a more social, more digital and greener recovery by confirming, with an overwhelming majority, the political agreement reached on the Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation last December.
The Recovery and Resilience Facility provides Member States with a unique chance to rebuild and revamp their economies and societies for the post-COVID world. It is an opportunity to build resilience and to embrace a digitalised and greener future. In order to recover from the crisis and meet the challenges of the 21st century, Member States should seize the opportunity offered by the RRF funding to free their economies of bottlenecks and refresh outdated policies and practices.
The Council’s approval opens the way for the formal signing of the regulation by the presidents of the ECOFIN Council and the European Parliament. Thus, it is time to focus all efforts on the preparation and submission of ambitious national recovery and resilience plans.
As it is clearly laid down in the regulation, “regional and local authorities can be important partners in the implementation of reforms and investments. In that regard, they should be appropriately consulted and involved”.
During the past couple of weeks, a great number of civil society organisations, local and regional authorities, social partners and youth organisations reached out to us, underlining the lack of involvement and consultation they experienced in the preparatory phase of the Hungarian national reform and recovery plan. On 9 February, 33 civil society organisations wrote a joint letter to Mr Szabolcs Ágostházy, Minister of State for European Union-funded Developments, who is inter alia in charge of the RRF preparation of the national recovery and resilience plan. Since the initiation of the joint letter, numerous civil organisations have co-signed the letter, and as of today, 51 organisations call for the widest and most meaningful participation of non-governmental organisations and professional communities in the consultation process. In an open letter sent by Mr László Kordás, President of the Hungarian Trade Union Confederation (MASZSZ) to Mr Sándor Bodó, Minister of State for Employment Policy, MASZSZ considered the documents prepared by the government on the use of EU recovery funds to be of insufficient quality and urged meaningful consultation.
The Recovery and Resilience Facility can only be effective if national governments conduct appropriate and comprehensive consultations with the widest possible range of relevant actors. Thus, it is our common interest and responsibility to avoid hollow consultations that could easily lead to the inappropriate use of this unique opportunity. As the summary of the conducted consultations will serve as one of the assessment criteria of the national recovery and resilience plans, an inadequate consultation can endanger the timely adoption and implementation of the national recovery and resilience plans.
Hungarian government officials have also announced that a significant amount, approximately 420 million EUR covered by the Recovery and Resilience Facility will be used to modernise Hungarian universities. While investing in education is a goal we share deeply, we are alarmed that this initiative was announced right after the government had started to eradicate the current, state-run structure of Hungarian universities and created an entirely new system where the universities will be operated by designated asset management foundations. Under current legislation, public funds from the national budget and managed by these foundations do not qualify as public money anymore. This would effectively preclude transparency and public scrutiny over these funds.
Let us express our deep concern over both the lack of proper consultation and the creation of shadowy structures to disburse EU funds. These developments could seriously jeopardise the timely and transparent disbursement of available resources and endanger Hungarian and European recovery from the pandemic.
We would respectfully like to ask you to closely follow the consultations led by the Hungarian Government and assess the summaries of the consultations to ensure that they comply with the rules set out in the legislation. We are convinced that it is of utmost importance to put a special emphasis on the evaluation of the conducted consultation process between national and local authorities.
Gergely Karácsony, Mayor of Budapest
István Ujhelyi, Vice-Chair of the TRAN Committee, Member of the European Parliament