European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – Photo: wikipedia

EC: Hungary’s judicial reform addressed deficiencies in judicial independence

Hungary has adopted reforms related to judicial independence which means that part of the Cohesion Policy funding would no longer be blocked, and therefore Hungary may start claiming reimbursements of up to around 10.2 billion euros, the European Commission said in Brussels on Wednesday.

“The Commission considers that Hungary has taken the measures it committed to take in order for the Commission to consider that the horizontal enabling condition on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is fulfilled in what concerns judicial independence,” it said in a statement.

“Hungary has adopted legislation which significantly strengthens the independence of the judiciary in the country,” the statement said. “This reform corresponds to the commitments taken by Hungary in its Recovery and Resilience Plan,” the EC said.

“Member States must ensure the fulfilment of enabling conditions throughout the whole Cohesion Policy period,” it said. “The Commission will closely and continuously monitor, notably through audits, active engagement with stakeholders and in monitoring committees, the application of the measures put in place by Hungary,” it added.

If, at any point in time, the body considers that this horizontal enabling condition is no longer fulfilled, it may again decide to block funding, the statement said.

The Commission said that Hungary had not addressed the breaches of the principles of the rule of law that led to the adoption of measures by the Council in December 2022. Therefore, the Commission is not in a position to propose that the measures against Hungary be adapted or lifted, which means that three Cohesion Policy programmes, with a budget of 6.3 billion euros, remain suspended and that Hungary does not as of yet have access to those funds.

In the Hungarian recovery and resilience plan (RRP), Hungary committed to 27 “super milestones” to ensure the protection of the EU’s financial interests, and to strengthen judicial independence, the statement said.

The 27 “super milestones” of the RRP include four on judicial independence, which correspond to the measures requested of Hungary by the Commission and 21 which correspond to the remedial measures under the budget conditionality mechanism. “Given that the super milestones have not been fully complied with, no payment request can be paid out for now,” it said.

“Overall, the funding that remains locked for Hungary amounts to around 21 billion euros,” the statement said.

The EC said that despite Hungary’s progress on judicial independence, the body maintains its concerns regarding other areas covered by the horizontal enabling condition on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. “These concerns relate to Hungary’s so-called child-protection law, serious risks to academic freedom and the right to asylum,” it said. “Until these concerns are addressed, the horizontal enabling condition remains unfulfilled, and the Commission cannot reimburse the related expenditure under several programmes,” it added.

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