Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The European Commission started a fresh offensive against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán by initiating a rule-of-law procedure that could end with Hungary losing its right to access EU funds.
The EC sent a formal letter on Wednesday, outlining perceived problems in its anti-corruption mechanisms and public tender regulations, which Budapest will be expected to address and declare what changes, if any, it plans to implement in order to fulfil the Commission’s requirements.
“We identified issues that might be breaching the rule of law in Hungary and affect the EU budget,” Commission vice-president Vera Jourova stated on Wednesday. “Hungary will have to reply to our concerns and propose remedial measures.”
According to senior EU officials quoted by Reuters, the case involves systemic problems with the Hungarian public procurement system, which has continuously failed to prevent conflicts of interest, single bidding and corruption risks.
The existing problem, the officials say, is exacerbated by State-imposed limits to effective investigations and independent prosecution, which causes “serious concern” for the Commission, concerned that EU funds are being funnelled to the ruling party’s backers.
According to the Union’s anti-fraud office OLAF, Hungary had the highest percentage of financial corrections in its EU funding among all member states. While suspect use of EU money forced Hungary to return 4% of spent funds, the EU average stands at 0.36%.
The procedure is being launched using the new rule-of-law mechanism, which the top EU court greenlit earlier this year, but the Commission decided to use only after the Hungarian parliamentary elections, when Orbán won another supermajority.
The mechanism no longer requires unanimous support from all EU leaders to enforce penalties against a country found to be in breach of regulations, but merely a qualified majority, meaning Hungary could easily be cut off from EU funds if it fails to reach an agreement with the Commission in the coming months.