Hungary has rejected claims from the European Commission that it has failed to carry out its promises of reform and insists it will still be able to access EU funding.
Gergely Gulyás, the chief of staff to prime minister Viktor Orbán, said that EU concerns about Hungary’s implementation of 17 promised anti-corruption reforms were “not factual” and that the government was on track to fulfil all its obligations.
His words come as the European Commission prepares to freeze €7.5bn of EU cohesion funding allocated to Hungary as officials accuse Budapest of only partially fulfilling rule of law pledges agreed with Brussels. The EU in April said it was willing to hold back billions of euros in funding under a new procedure meant to protect EU money.
If the Council of the EU agrees with the commission and implements the clampdown on a third of Hungary’s cohesion funding, it will come as a blow to Orbán, who has spent months trying to convince the commission that reforms such as the creation of a new anti-corruption “Integrity Authority” will alleviate its concerns.
“The commission’s concerns we have heard about are not factual — we have fulfilled all of our obligations,” said Gulyás. “If we reopen issues we have already settled, this will never end.”
The commission is separately planning to approve EU recovery funds for Hungary. But the stand-off over the 17 anti-corruption reforms promised by Budapest will, if not resolved promptly, also lead to delays in recovery fund payments to Hungary, according to people briefed on the matter.
Despite the deadlock, Hungarian state secretary Szabolcs Ágostházy said he still thought his country would be able to unlock the cash.
“I see no risk of a loss of resources,” Ágostházy said. “The temporary suspension of funds can be lifted sometime in the first half of next year upon meeting some relatively easy deadlines.”
The impasse has deepened fears that Hungary will veto EU policy initiatives as part of an effort to pressure the EU to release badly needed cash. Plans that require unanimous support for funding include the implementation of a global corporate tax deal, and a fresh, €18bn round of financing for Ukraine.
The latter is particularly sensitive given US pressure on the EU to quickly authorise a steady stream of funding for Kyiv for 2023 following the slow and irregular disbursement of EU cash during the course of this year.
Budapest said it was willing to support extra financing. “Ukraine must get this money,” Gulyás said. “We can discuss whether member states provide the funds on a bilateral basis or piece it together, but in the end the format is irrelevant.”
Czech foreign minister Jan Lipavsky said that while it was better for the EU to reach unanimous support on the provision of cash to Ukraine, the critical nature of the financial aid meant that a deal between the other 26 countries excluding Hungary would have to be found.
“Would Hungary not allow for the realisation of Plan A, I’m sure that we will be able to find a Plan B,” he said.
“We need to politically agree that Ukraine needs to get its macro-financial help from the EU,” Lipavsky told the Financial Times. “Because otherwise it would lead to the breakdown of the Ukrainian state as such and that would lead to Russia winning. And we cannot allow it to happen.”
Additional reporting by Henry Foy in Brussels