Remarks from Jobbik MEP Márton Gyöngyösi:
We witnessed a long-awaited event on 1st June: the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) finally began its operation to protect EU monies. One may say it was high time, but we wouldn’t be living in the European Union if there wasn’t yet another twist in the story: Member States were not required to join, and the Orbán government, which had built up a dictatorial regime through tapping into EU funds, refused to participate.
They could hardly have found a more suitable person than Romania’s former chief of anti-corruption prosecution office Laura Codruţa Kövesi to head the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), as she has already proved her capabilities beyond doubt. It must have taken a significant amount of courage for her to combat Romania’s most influential politicians in a sphere that is often euphemistically called “Byzantine” on account of the critically dangerous chains of corruption developing there. Not only did Kövesi combat the people who had caused serious damage to the Romanian state, but she put them behind bars, too, one after the other.
We might as well go as far as to say that if she could stand her ground so courageously in such an environment, the management of the EPPO will almost be like a walk in the park for her.
As a matter of fact, Luxembourg is certainly different from Bucharest, but the challenge is still big. In cooperation with the 22 participating countries, EPPO will have to investigate such crimes in member state territories as money laundering, corruption or tax fraud, provided that the cases affect EU funds. The total value of the cases is very high: according to the known data, such frauds were committed up to the amount of €460 million in 2019 alone, and the sum is expected to rise even higher as the EU’s recovery funds are allocated.
It’s a beautiful challenge but the devil, as usual in the European Union, lies in the details: EU member states were not required to join the EPPO, and five of them did indeed decide to stay out of it. Denmark and Ireland have an opt-out from the area of freedom, security and justice, while Sweden wants to wait until next year to join in the work of the prosecution office. We must note however, that none of these three countries are famous for corruption, and they are not the main net recipients of EU funds, either. It’s more interesting to look at the cases of Poland and Hungary: neither of these countries is planning to join the EPPO at all, but they receive huge sums from the EU.
As far as Poland is concerned, the reason for the rejection is likely political: although the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) has been widely criticized for its increasingly authoritarian methods over the years, its opposition with the EU bodies is mainly ideological. All-devouring corruption has not been reported in Poland.
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In contrast, Hungary’s Orbán regime has been using increasingly blatant dictatorial measures to methodically eliminate its opposition and dismantle independent institutions. Despite the façade of battling Brussels over ideological issues, the truth is that Orbán has built up a fundamentally corrupt regime that he maintains by tapping into the very EU funds he is supposed to invest into the country’s development.
In today’s Hungary, corruption is not a system error, it’s the system itself.
Not only do Orbán’s favourite oligarchs and closest allies keep lining their already bulging pockets with the EU funds, but EU monies have become a sort of currency to pay off the provincial oligarchs who deliver the votes for Fidesz by intimidating and blackmailing the local people – in return, they are allowed to use their region’s development funds for their own purposes. No wonder Orbán doesn’t even consider joining the EPPO.
Of course, the official explanation is that Hungary’s prosecution service is completely sufficient to prevent fraudulent practices. However, if you have just a minimal insight into Hungary, you are well aware that Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt is a former Fidesz member and MP candidate, who is Orbán’s political appointee and therefore doesn’t have the slightest inclination to look into the affairs of his fellow party members. (This system is so much more ingenious than Poland’s model of replacing judges, because the cases dropped in the prosecution phase will never be seen by a judge, so it no longer matters who the judge is – which clearly shows how cunning Fidesz is.)
This way however, regardless how happy we are about Laura Codruţa Kövesi’s appointment and the EPPO in general, we rightfully feel dissatisfied since the biggest thief is allowed to escape justice.
Knowing the history of European integration, it’s easy to understand why it’s so hard to step up against the blatant corruption in Hungary. The EU was basically created on the grounds of its member states’ honesty and good faith. The founding fathers and the institutionalized EU bodies could hardly have expected any country to become a member for the sole purpose of sabotaging the organization politically and shaking it down financially.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Viktor Orbán has been doing. No matter how hard it is, it’s time for us to think about how to stop the politicians like him before it gets too late.