Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said on Wednesday that while Hungary has fulfilled requirements on judicial reform, the EU will continue to withhold some 20 billion euros of cohesion funds until other concerns are addressed.
Speaking in the European Parliament’s plenary debate on the state of the rule of law in Hungary, Von der Leyen said Hungarian legislation on judicial reform guaranteed judicial independence and curbed the danger of political interference. “Hungary did what we asked,” she said. At the same time, resources frozen due to concerns over the rights of sexual minorities, academic freedom and asylum rights would be withheld until Hungary fulfilled those requirements, she added. The EC president said that the EU had always aimed to foster changes in member states that improved the lives of all Europeans. Meanwhile, Hungary has received pre-financing from the resources of the REPowerEU funds, earmarked for programmes aiding economic recovery. REPowerEU funds are disbursed unconditionally to all member states, she noted. The EC will continue to monitor the use of the funds to protect the interests of the EU and its budget, she added. Von der Leyen also touched on the situation in Ukraine, noting that in months, Kyiv adopted new legislation on expanding the rights of ethnic minorities, developing the judiciary and curbing the influence of oligarchs. She said those “significant results” showed Ukraine’s commitment to Europe, adding that Ukraine’s democratic institutions were fulfilling the “aspirations of their people as well as our recommendations”. Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said Belgium, which took over the EU’s rotating presidency on Jan 1, was concerned about the state of the rule of law in Europe. To avoid any further infringements, the Article 7 procedure against Hungary would be pursued even as the presidency engaged in dialogue with the Hungarian government, she said. Maintaining the rule of law and introducing institutional reforms to protect the EU’s budget would be key to Hungary gaining access to EU funds, she added.