Rule of law in Hungary: EU threatens to cut billions

The EU Commission has threatened to withhold 7.5 billion euros in funding for Hungary unless the country shows progress on improving the rule of law by November. But Brussels appears to be already softening its stance after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced that he would set up an anti-corruption authority. Will the Commission stand firm?

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La Croix (FR) /

Potential consequences not discussed

There should be an honest discussion about the potential repercussions of the decision, La Croix stresses:

“The European Parliament has overwhelmingly approved a text calling Orbán's government a 'hybrid regime of electoral autocracy'. ... Added to this is Viktor Orbán's ambivalent relationship with Russia. All this raises the question of Hungary's membership in the EU. The exclusion of a member is not provided for in the treaties. But financial sanctions, if implemented, could turn the tables: they will inevitably prompt Hungary to question its own interest in remaining in the EU. If this is the desired effect, it deserves to be discussed publicly.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

In the interest of the citizens

Anti-corruption measures will above all help the Hungarian people, Helsingin Sanomat stresses:

“The Hungarian government has always branded EU pressure as an attack against the people of Hungary and their freely chosen values. This is not the case. On the contrary, Europe is acting in the interest of Hungarian citizens by forcing the government to fight corruption and improve public procurement procedures. If developments go in the direction the EU wants and the funds no longer go to a select few, there will be more money for Hungarian consumers. At the same time the EU is defending the interests of European consumers. Hungary is one of the biggest net recipients in the Union.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Brussels totters on

Piotr Buras, head of the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations in Poland, expects a typical EU compromise. He writes in Gazeta Wyborcza:

“Orbán will commit to the reforms demanded by the EU. This will allow member states to avoid cutting Hungary's funding by 7.5 billion euros. Orbán's commitments will be written into Hungary's recovery plan, as was done with Poland. This will allow the Commission to accept the plan and save face at the same time: the cash will only flow once Orbán has fulfilled all his commitments. Whether this will be the case only time can tell. The defenders of the rule of law will tear their hair out, and the EU's tottering and lurching vehicle will roll forwards. Because that is the reality of the EU.”

Népszava (HU) /

Clouded joy

Even if Hungary ultimately receives the EU funds these proceedings will not be without consequences, says Népszava:

“The unclouded mood [in the Hungarian government's communication] is definitely overshadowed by two facts. On the one hand, the EU has never threatened one of its member states with such a huge, specific penalty. Not even by 2060 will Prime Minister Viktor Orbán be able to put that behind him. On the other hand, the agreement reached with the Commission includes the confession that Hungary is up to its neck in a swamp of government corruption.”

Jornal de Notícias (PT) /

Not the last red card

According to Jornal de Notícias the EU Commission may soon apply financial pressure to other member states:

“With the European Council's decision - which must be ratified by the European Commission - Brussels seems to have finally held up a red card to the totalitarian practices of Viktor Orbán's government, which until now had not appeared to be troubled by verbal threats. ... We should pay attention, because we may soon be talking about other European states. Elections will be held in Italy next weekend. Autocracies are gradually conquering old Europe.” (HU) /

All just a bluff?

Commenting in in, lawyer Zsuzsa Sándor is sceptical about whether Budapest will keep its promises:

“The most beautiful thing about the 'rule of law' in Hungary is that there are already numerous authorities whose job it is to monitor the government's activities. ... The problem is that the Fidesz government has smothered all these authorities so that now none of them is actually independent. ... The EU Commission will need guarantees, but it seems to be taking the government's promises seriously so far. This may also mean that it will wait to see how it fulfills its commitments and only then decide whether to end or continue the rule of law proceedings.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Orbán won't change fundamentally

The EU Commission should not engage in bad compromises, advises Die Presse:

“Neither an anti-corruption agency nor any other individual measures will be enough to turn this wonderful country back into a democratic constitutional state. What is needed is an all-encompassing restructuring, a return to liberal principles. After all that Orbán has done to his country and to relations with his European partners, it's hard to imagine that he himself will succeed. To use a metaphor: his power has become too broad for him to jump over his own shadow.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Brussels ends the ceasefire

The EU Commission's stance also sends a signal to Poland, Rzeczpospolita believes:

“The message from Brussels is clear. The ceasefire with Hungary is over, but so is the one that has existed with Poland since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Yes, Poland is still a strategically important country because of its potential and geographic location, but not quite as important as it was when it looked like Vladimir Putin was going to take over all of Ukraine right up to our country's borders. In defence of democracy on the Vistula, the European Commission will therefore adopt a tough stance on [the allocation of funds from the] EU's Reconstruction plan for Europe, and may also withhold money from the 'normal EU budget'.”

Pravda (SK) /

Such policies cannot be tolerated

For Pravda, Europe's admonishment is entirely understandable:

“Orbán's policies are a lesson from the handbook for would-be dictators who have inadvertently found themselves in a democracy. They demonstrate how to gradually dismantle the pillars of democracy while building an unfree society. ... No one who is at all serious about democracy can tolerate this. Unless, that is, they want to live in a one-party state that dishonours minorities and fails to respect the independence of the judiciary, where corruption is rampant and media not to the taste of the ruling party are shut down.”