Just before the beginning of the two-day EU summit, the European Commission has released €10 billion in cohesion funding to Hungary, after it found that the country had addressed the EU Commission’s concerns regarding the country’s judicial reform.
However, this ruling has infuriated Europe’s left-liberal mainstream. Former Belgian Prime Minister and current MEP Guy Verhofstadt went as far as saying he no longer backs von der Leyen, describing it as a “scandalous decision” to release the funds to Hungary.
“I withdraw my confidence from von der Leyen and this Commission!” he wrote on X.
Verhofstadt, who is vehemently opposed to Orbán and his government, is far from the only MEP who lambasted von der Leyen. Other politicians piled on, with Finnish MEP Petri Sarvamaa writing, “Catastrophic decision! The Commission has just decided to let Hungary start claiming up to 10.2 billion euros of EU funds. The timing could not have been worse — now it looks like Orbán has successfully blackmailed the rest of the union.”
Notably, Sarvamaa is an MEP for what is supposed to be a “conservative” political group, the European People’s Party (EPP). Orbán’s Fidesz party once belonged to the group, before it was pushed out.
In fact, the four major party groups in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party, the Socialists and Democrats, Renew Europe, and the Greens, all wrote a letter to von der Leyen warning her not to give in to “blackmail” and release the funds to Hungary.
“We would like to express our deep concern as regards the imminent positive assessment of the Hungarian judicial reforms,” read the letter. They wrote that the EU’s conditions for releasing the money “have not been fulfilled.”
Hungary has been locked in battle with Brussels over billions in frozen EU funds, with the EU deciding in December 2022 that it would block €22 billion in EU cohesion funds.
“After a thorough assessment, and several exchanges with the Hungarian government, 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,” the Commission wrote in a statement. “This means part of the above-mentioned funding would no longer be blocked, and therefore Hungary may start claiming reimbursements of up to around €10.2 billion.”
There has been much speculation as to the timing of the unlocked funds, with Hungary threatening to veto further aid to Ukraine. Hungary denies there is any connection between the two issues. Nevertheless, billions still remain frozen.
“However, another €21 billion that Hungary should be able to draw upon from the recovery and resilience plan (RRP) remains frozen as the Commission deemed that the 27 ‘super milestones’ of the RRP include 4 ‘super milestones’ on judicial independence, which correspond to the measures requested of Hungary by the Commission under the horizontal enabling conditions on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and 21 ‘super milestones’ 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,” announced the EU commission.