European Parliament Challenges EU Commission on Hungary’s Cohesion Funds

Simona Mazzeo

European Parliament seeks legal action against EU Commission over Hungary’s €10.2 billion cohesion funds release, citing rule-of-law concerns.

The European Parliament has pushed ahead with its plan to undertake a lawsuit against the European Commission for the release of €10.2 billion in cohesion funds for Hungary, which had been thwarted over rule-of-law considerations.

A final announcement is anticipated in the coming days following the decision by the Legal Affairs Committee on Monday evening, with 16 votes in acceptance and one against. The legal action needs the approval of the Parliament’s president, Roberta Metsola, and has to be presented before the European Court of Justice by 25 March at the latest.

The wrath of MEPs arises from the decision brought by the European Commission in December that cleared €10.2 billion in cohesion funds for Hungary, which the nation had been unfit to access due to persistent deficits in the rule of law.

The Commission claimed the release was justified because Budapest had enacted in May last year a reform to boost judicial independence and mitigate political interference in the tribunals, in line with four “super milestones” that the administration had imposed. Lawmakers, reflecting the concerns voiced by civil society, questioned the reasoning and expressed the overhaul was not up to the mission. They also complained the funds had been unfrozen one day before a critical summit of EU leaders in which Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had intimidated to veto key deals on Ukraine.

In a resolution ratified in January, MEPs presented the prospect of legal motion and emphasised that “in no way can the EU disseminate into blackmail and trade the strategic stakes of the EU and its partners by renouncing its values.” “Hungary does not fulfil the standard of judicial autonomy set out in the (EU accords) as the measures assumed do not ensure adequate safeguards against political influence and can be either bypassed or poorly applied,” they reported.

Days later, MEPs probed Commissioners Didier Reynders (Justice), Nicolas Schmit (Jobs) and Johannes Hahn (Budget) for hitting what they dubbed a “political deal” with Orbán to confirm the lifting of his veto in exchange for the €10.2 billion. The three Commissioners stood strong and insisted Hungary had furnished sufficient evidence to indicate compliance with the four “super milestones,” which contained measures to support the National Judicial Council, a self-governing supervisory committee, and action on political meddling inside the Supreme Court.

“The Commission was under legal obligation to take a decision,” Reynders stated. As of today, Brussels is yet withholding about €12 billion from Hungary’s distributed share of cohesion funds and most of its €10.4-billion retrieval and stability plan, a situation that Orbán has frequently criticised as “financial blackmail.” Each envelope is subject to distinct sets of conditions that demand legislative changes in fields like LGBTQ+ rights, asylum procedures, public procurement and anti-corruption.

However, in their January resolution, MEPs expressed the funds that stay blocked “must be ministered as a single, integral package, and that no amounts should be made even if the improvement is made in one or more areas but deficiencies persist in another.”

Talking on Tuesday morning, Valérie Hayer, chair of the Renew Europe group, urged the Commission to defend “complete transparency” and deliver the Parliament with all the information concerning the release of further funds. “We must look at the legal aspects of the decisions taken by the Commission,” Hayer briefed reporters.

Terry Reintke, the co-chair of the Greens, greeted the “almost unanimous” vote in the Legal Affairs Committee and stated MEPs would stand “very well” as the discussions between Brussels and Budapest persist regarding the remaining freezing funds. This is not the first time the Parliament has brought its case to Luxembourg to push the Commission’s hand. In October 2021, the hemicycle filed a case against the executive for its “neglect to apply” a novel mechanism that connected payments of EU funds to respect for the bloc’s essential rights.

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Simona Mazzeo is a journalist at Brussels Morning News. She is covering European Parliament, European Council, European Commission & Italy News. She is a law graduate and lawyer residing in Agropoli, has carved out a multifaceted career dedicated to justice and social advocacy. She actively serves as a delegated councilor for the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Bar Association of Vallo della Lucania, championing fair and equal representation within the legal system. Recognized for her expertise and empathy, Simona is qualified for registration in the list of Special Curators of minors in civil and criminal matters at the Court of Vallo della Lucania, ensuring the rights and interests of vulnerable children are protected throughout legal proceedings. Beyond her legal practice, Simona demonstrates a strong commitment to social causes. She is a founding member of the Free Lawyer Movement, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing legal assistance to those who cannot afford it. Additionally, she leverages her knowledge and passion for social justice as a non-professional journalist, contributing insightful and informative pieces on relevant legal and societal issues. Through her diverse endeavors, Simona Mazzeo exemplifies dedication to legal excellence, social responsibility, and a fervent belief in equal access to justice for all.