The Article 7 procedure against Hungary in defence of fundamental European values should continue, as protecting democracy and guaranteeing human rights are now more important today than ever before, the German state secretary in charge of European affairs said on Friday.
Hungary should make progress towards guaranteeing the freedom of the media, Anna Luehrmann told reporters before a ministerial session in Brussels. Concerning the rule-of-law conditionality mechanism, she said Germany was awaited the European Commission’s report on how Hungary has implemented its recommendations and what it did to protect EU funding.
Laurence Boone, the French state secretary of European affairs, said France and Germany would draft a report on Hungary’s rule-of-law record, covering the judiciary, anti-graft measures, academic freedom, and the enforcement of fundamental rights, with focus on the right of assembly and minority rights. Marko Stucin, the Slovenian state secretary of European affairs, said Hungary had made positive steps to address the EU’s concerns.
Hungary is doing everything it can to meet the deadlines in respect of 17 commitments negotiated earlier with the European Commission which are necessary for unlocking the country’s EU funds, Justice Minister Judit Varga said in Brussels on Friday. Briefing Hungarian journalists ahead of a meeting of EU affairs ministers, Varga said Hungary was engaged in an “intensive negotiation process, in-depth work with the European Commission; constructive and professional dialogue is taking place between Brussels and Budapest.”
On Saturday, Hungary will send an official letter briefing the EC on the work done so far, she said. Regarding the conditionality procedure launched against Hungary, which makes EU funding conditional on adherence to the rule of law, Varga said the procedure was raising hopes of becoming a “test case”, an “example of constructive dialogue, a symbol of unity boosting solidarity”. At the same time, the procedure should not fall prey to political agendas as that would undermine European unity at a time of unprecedented challenges, she warned.
Hungary sees the procedure as a “test case in building trust”, and is acting responsibly, not sparing human and financial resources, Varga said. Hungary expects its partners to do the same, “so we can finally turn to truly important tasks,” she said.
Hungary has considered all commitments and proposals that could take it closer to an effective use of EU funds, she said. The measures are “exemplary” and could serve as examples for other countries, she said.
Hungary is committed to the basic values of the European Union and to protecting its financial interests, “as it is in our common interest to ensure transparent and efficient use of European taxpayers’ contributions,” Justice Minister Judit Varga said in an article published on the euractiv.com website on Friday.
The conditionality procedure against Hungary linking the payments of EU funds to adherence to the rule of law “was conceived as a preventive tool to protect the financial interests of the EU but if it is turned into a political sanctioning mechanism, the whole exercise will become a collective failure,” Varga said.
The procedure entered a new phase as a result of the Hungarian government’s proposal of “a comprehensive package of significant remedial measures to protect the Union’s financial interests further. The measures aim to make public procurement more transparent and competitive, reinforcing the legal and institutional framework for fighting fraud and corruption and strengthening audit and control processes and conflict of interest rules,” Varga said.
Recently, Hungary’s “objective has been to implement those remedial measures in consultation with the Commission,” she said.
“An Integrity Authority has been established to intervene in all cases where competent authorities have not taken the necessary steps to prevent, detect and correct fraud, conflicts of interest, corruption and other irregularities that have or may have an effect on the implementation of EU financial support. The Board of the Authority has been elected, and its provisional infrastructure is already in place. An Anti-Corruption Task Force has also been convened,” she said.