By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union executive missed its own deadline to approve billions of euros in economic stimulus aid to Hungary, delaying its decision to try to secure concessions on the Budapest rule of law.
Hungary is set to receive € 7.2 billion in EU stimulus funds intended to revive economic growth hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.
The funds will start to flow once the Brussels-based European Commission accepts national plans on how to spend them on ensuring the digital and green transition, among other goals.
However, the Commission is using money as leverage to push Hungary over the rule of law, an area where increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has clashed in the EU.
A Commission spokeswoman said on Monday that she was still analyzing the plan presented by Budapest and could propose a longer deadline if she felt that “months rather than days” were still needed to come to a conclusion.
While the spokesperson declined to give details, the bloc’s economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said last week: “We are working on aspects related to respect for the rule of law”.
The Commission has long wanted Hungary to improve its public procurement process to tackle “systemic irregularities” – or fraud.
Orban has also infuriated many of his EU peers in recent weeks with new legislation banning material in schools deemed to promote homosexuality, the latest in a series of laws deemed discriminatory and restricting human rights.
Budapest has clashed with the EU on several occasions over Orban’s treatment of migrants and gays, as well as tightening restrictions around freedom of the media, academics and judges.
Orban presents himself as a crusader for what he says are traditional Catholic values under pressure from the liberal West.