Navracsics has ‘substantive discussion’ with EP budget control committee delegation
The minister of regional development told journalists that the talks achieved a foothold in mutual understanding, and he was “confident” members of the committee had been convinced on several issues by the Hungarian side’s objective arguments.
The delegation was briefed on the ways in which Hungary intends to use EU funds, he said, adding that he sensed, however, that the delegation had not read background materials sent to them in advance. Also, “the political prejudices of many representatives” were evident and “factual mistakes” were made when questions were put to him.
As an example, Navracsics said the government was accused in a blanket way of political bias when it came to the distribution of EU funds, and this is something the Hungarian side strove to refute.
Answering a question, he said it appeared that on several issues at least, the committee’s opinion formed thus far had been nuanced.
“I may risk saying that in some areas we have managed to convince them with data and facts,” the minister said. “So, I trust that we managed to gain a supporter in the longer term when it comes to accessing European Union funds.”
Meanwhile, Navracsics said that from the questions formulated by the delegation’s members it could be deduced that the mayor of Budapest, who recently had his own meeting the committee, considered the government was “treating him unfairly”.
The minister said he had told the delegation that the government’s dealings with the municipality were not a matter of party politics. Rather, he explained to them, affluent local councils must take their fair share of the burden during straitened times to offset lower contributions by struggling localities. This, he added, not only applied to Budapest but richer councils such as Debrecen, Gyor, Szekesfehervar and Veszprem.
Navracsics said the aim here was to boost financial support for regions which barely reach half of the EU average level of development.
On the subject of public procurement, the Hungarian side told the delegation that the government has pledged to reduce the proportion of single-bid procedures to 15 percent, the EU average. He said significant progress was being made in this area.
Navracsics said he was “moderately optimistic” regarding the delegation’s visit, though their opinion overall was “unlikely to be very high”. Hopefully, the government’s data would be accepted in areas that could objectively verified or refuted, he added.
Asked about discord between the EU and the government over the Erasmus student programme, Navracsics said the matter was not discussed with the delegation.
The minister noted that he discussed Erasmus issues in Brussels on Tuesday, and he promised to send the government’s negotiating position to the European Commission next week.
Though the government wants negotiations to go swiftly on this topic too, the situation was hindered by the fact that the commissioner dealing with this issue from Bulgaria was new and would have to be contacted.
Later in the day, the delegation met State Secretary Janos Bokai at the justice ministry. After the talks, the ministry said in a statement that the delegation had “put forward political expectations beyond the EU’s conditionality procedure and super milestones” adding that the ministry “rejected” those expectations. “Political pressure jeopardises the credibility of procedures,” it said.
“In Hungary EU funds are utilised well and in legitimate ways, guaranteed by recently established model institutions that serve as examples for the whole of Europe,” the ministry said.
EC budget control committee calls on government to meet criteria for releasing EU funds
The delegation of the European Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee called on the Hungarian government to act more responsibly in distributing EU funds, include regional authorities in decision-making instead of a “top-down” approach and meet the criteria required for releasing the funds withheld from Hungary, the head of the delegation told a press conference on Wednesday.
An effective implementation of the 27 “super milestones” defined earlier and the related 17 remedial measures under the conditionality regulation is required for unblocking the 28 billion euros which is more than 10,000 billion forints in EU Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) funding, Monika Hohlmeier, the head of the delegation, said after conclusion of their three-day visit to Hungary.
EU funds “represent a very big opportunity for the development of Hungary”, she said, noting however the committee’s “core concern is how the money can reach Hungarian citizens, businesses and regions”.
Hohlmeier said the committee has identified shortcomings, noting that the State Audit Office could not provide information on the use of 1.48 billion euros in 29 cases over which concerns had been raised before.
The delegation head also noted the committee’s concern over the implementation of public procurements in line with free market rules and over failure in involving local governments and civil organisations in the distribution of EU funds.
She raised concern over government measures distorting competition such as the introduction of “unfair special taxes”, “arbitrary change of laws” without preliminary consultation and intimidation. She raised further concern over ad hoc decision-making, referring to the amendment of the budget law in a decision made “overnight”.
Hohlmeier said the committee noticed several positive developments such as the setting up of the Integrity Authority, reforms at the tax office and the strengthening of the national judicial council.
Tamas Deutsch, an MEP or ruling Fidesz, said the delegation’s visit was “part of Brussels’s exerting political pressure” on the Hungarian government. He noted that the committee had no “powers of an authority over Hungary” therefore “it will do neither good nor harm what they do”.
Deutsch suggested the committee had come to Budapest “to increase the pressure and force Hungary into the war in Ukraine”. He also insisted that “Brussels does not like that Hungarian voters had said no to illegal migration in a referendum, and that Hungary had adopted a very rigorous child protection law to prevent the sexualisation of minors”. The EU expects member states to adopt a pro-migration stance and would “make the gender ideology madness the norm in Europe”. “But we say no war, no migration, no gender,” the MEP said.