In less than a week, the first milestone in the deal on EU funds for Hungary will expire: the deadline of 19 November for the adoption in principle of all the measures the Hungarian government has committed to the European Commission under the rule of law mechanism, with no less than HUF 3000 billion of EU funds at stake.
The panel will then be able to take an assessment decision on the proceedings against the Fidesz government for its criminal activities and on the next steps for the Recovery Plan at its meeting on 22 November at the earliest. The negotiations led by Tibor Navracsics – in a very different style indeed from previous negotiations – were undoubtedly successful, with new professional commitments made by the government, such as the teacher career model and salary improvements, or the additional resources invested in the green shift, all of which helped to ensure that the national plan, previously rejected on both formal and substantive grounds, could finally be adopted in the coming days. However, according to my reliable sources in Brussels, the government is once again trying to be sneaky and has in some places significantly modified and watered down the amendments to the laws that were recently adopted or will be adopted by the Fidesz majority in the National Assembly in order to stop the proceedings against Hungary that were initiated in April and to avoid freezing the 3 000 billion forints that would be particularly needed in the current economic situation. Orbán and his mates are obviously hoping that, having negotiated with Brussels in complete secrecy, no one will notice the not-so-subtle tweaks. But they are wrong about that, too. According to the information I have received from the European Commission’s leaders, the members and decision- makers of the body are well aware that measures to curb corruption and create transparency, for example, have not always been presented and adopted with the same precise content as the original commitments. This is yet another gamble that could mean serious losses for all Hungarian people. As the parties are effectively close to an agreement on the substance, we now hope that the European Commission will approve the amended national plan on 22 November and that the Council of Finance Ministers in early December (or a subsequent extraordinary meeting) can adopt the document, thus avoiding Hungary losing nearly 80% of the approximately HUF 2300 billion in non-reimbursable aid from the Recovery Fund. If the contract is not signed by the end of the year, we could say goodbye to a significant part of this money as it is.
However, do not be fooled even if the agreement is finally reached on paper: we can avoid losing resources, but the money will only reach us if the Hungarian government's commitments are actually met. And this will be closely scrutinised by the European Commission – and, following the German example, by national governments. And if it falls through or is not implemented as agreed in the preliminary negotiations, then the money valves will remain closed, just as in the case of the Poles. The Orbán government has had no qualms about lying about frozen funds: perhaps Judit Varga went to the deepest depths, lying in a public briefing that EU funds were being withheld in Brussels because Fidesz had prevented kindergarten children from having sex-change operations. Everyone knows full well that the freezing of funds was done solely to protect the rule of law, including, to a very large extent, the money that was being dissipated by state corruption; this is clearly borne out by the 17 commitments made by the government, which relate almost exclusively to this.
However, now that it has become clear that the government is trying to wriggle out of the expectations that Brussels and we have successfully set, by the usual gamble, it is even more important that the public be given a much greater insight into the details of the negotiations on resources than at present. Hungarian people have the right to know exactly what expectations the European Commission has communicated, what amendments to the law it has requested, and in relation to this, exactly what commitments the government has made and how the laws submitted are in line with these. Justice Minister Judit Varga – especially after having been caught lying heavily with regards to the negotiations in Brussels – has a duty to clarify this issue in a reassuring way in public as soon as possible. If the European Commission objects to the failure to implement the commitments, EU funds could be further delayed, despite any agreement, which would further increase the already record high inflation, increase economic uncertainty, thereby raising prices and making it even more difficult for families to make ends meet.
The government cannot continue to keep secrets and certainly cannot point the finger at Brussels or other political actors about the success or failure of the negotiations if it continues to keep the details of the negotiations immorally – and ultimately illegally – secret. I expect Fidesz to honour the commitments it has made to the European Commission, not to change them surreptitiously, not to try to trick the European negotiating partners and to inform the Hungarian people fairly about all the details. This would be the minimum for a truly national government.
After the Hungarian Prime Minister’s landmark 2014 speech in Tusványos proclaiming the illiberal state, I vowed that as an MEP I would write an open letter every week to warn the public of the crimes of the system that has been established. I am ringing the bells of alarm for the three 381 st time and will do so for as long as it is necessary. Because we must give revival and a shared homeland a chance.
Member of the European Parliament
Founder of the Community of Chance