BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive branch recommended Sunday that the bloc suspend around 7.5 billion euros ($7.5 billion) in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding and the possible mismanagement of EU money.
EU Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn said that despite measures Hungary has proposed to address the deficiencies, the European Commission is recommending the suspension of funds “amounting to an estimated amount of 7.5 billion euros.”
The money would come from “cohesion funds” granted to Hungary. This envelope of money, one of the biggest slices of the bloc’s budget, helps countries to bring their economies and infrastructure up to EU standards.
Hahn said that Hungary has until Nov. 19 to address the concerns. Any action to suspend the funds must be approved by EU’s 27 member countries, and this requires a “qualified majority,” which amounts to 55% of the 27 members representing at least 65% of the total EU population.
The European Commission has for nearly a decade accused Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of dismantling democratic institutions, taking control of the media and infringing on minority rights. Orban, who has been in office since 2010, denies the accusations.
Speaking after a meeting of EU commissioners in Brussels, which unanimously endorsed the move, Hahn welcomed Hungary’s offer to fix the problem, saying that its proposed remedial action goes “in the right direction.”
He said the measures could address some of the commission’s concerns if they are followed up, and properly acted upon. But he said that “a risk for the budget at this stage remains, therefore we cannot conclude that the EU budget is sufficiently protected.”
Hungarian media has reported that Orban’s nationalist government is set to announce new legislation as soon as Monday. EU lawmakers expressed concern last week that this may just be a ploy to gain time.
In a resolution on Thursday, the lawmakers said that Hungary’s nationalist government is deliberately trying to undermine the bloc’s democratic values.
They said that the government in Budapest — which Orban characterizes as an “illiberal democracy” — has become “a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy.” In part, they blame EU member countries for this, for turning a blind eye to possible abuses.
The French Greens parliamentarian who chaperoned the resolution through the assembly, Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, said that “for the first time, an EU institution is stating the sad truth, that Hungary is no longer a democracy.”
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