Commission says Hungary has fulfilled set of judiciary reforms while critics say funds could have been unlocked to persuade Orbán to stop blocking Ukraine-related decisions
Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper), In a surprising move, the European Commission announced today that it is unfreezing approximately €10 billion earmarked for Hungary, constituting a third of the total amount suspended due to concerns related to the rule of law. The funds primarily comprise “cohesion funds” designated for maintaining infrastructure at EU standards. The European Commission has emphasized that it will closely monitor Hungary’s compliance with specified conditions.
Hungary, grappling with an ailing economy that narrowly avoided four consecutive quarters of contraction, stands to benefit significantly from access to these previously frozen funds.
The commission defended its decision, asserting that Hungary has implemented a set of judiciary reforms, making it deserving of partial access to funding based on merit. In an official statement, the commission declared:
“After a thorough assessment and several exchanges with the Hungarian government, the Commission considers that Hungary has taken the measures it committed to take, fulfilling the horizontal enabling condition on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights concerning judicial independence.”
As a result, a portion of the Cohesion Policy funding will no longer be blocked, allowing Hungary to claim reimbursements of up to approximately €10.2 billion.
Tibor Navracsics, Hungary’s regional development minister, expressed confidence in accessing EU funds, stating, “We have fulfilled all the conditions, so we are very confident that EU funds will now come.”
However, the decision has sparked controversy, with Hungarian civil society groups monitoring judicial independence disputing the government’s full compliance. Additionally, four political groups in the European Parliament, including the center-right European People’s Party and the Socialists and Democrats, expressed concerns in a letter to the Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen.
Critics argue that the decision to unlock funds appears rushed, possibly aimed at persuading Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to lift his block on key Ukraine-related decisions scheduled for an upcoming summit.
Responding to the decision, German Green MEP Daniel Freund criticized von der Leyen, stating, “By releasing €10 billion to Orbán, von der Leyen is making the biggest mistake of her time in office.”
The Commission’s explanation of the decision highlighted continuous monitoring and a warning that funding may be blocked again if the enabling condition on judicial independence is no longer fulfilled.
In response to the decision, Petri Sarvamaa MEP, spokesperson for the EPP Group’s Budgetary agenda, expressed grave concern, calling it a “catastrophic decision.” Sarvamaa questioned the Commission’s evaluation, particularly in the absence of a named National Judicial Council, and voiced skepticism about the timing, hinting at potential political maneuvering.
Sarvamaa stressed the worrying precedent set by the release of funds, indicating that it sends a clear signal to authoritarian leaders. “Now we have given Orban a clear signal: when you play tough enough, you come out as a winner,” he warned.