Hungary would not face possible financial penalties over rule-of-law violations until after its parliamentary election scheduled for April 3, European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders told Politico. Previous reports suggested that the EU could start sanctions against Hungary before April.
Viktor Orban’s radical rightwing government is accusing the EU of political blackmail for already holding back recovery fund (RRF) transfers to the country, before the mechanism even comes into effect. Budapest still hopes these transfers could be made before the elections, stoking the boom the Fidesz government has stoked to boost its support. Hungary has requested €7.2bn in funding from the EU’s recovery scheme, but according to reports, rule-of-law issues and the controversial anti-LGBT regulation are halting the approval of the plan.
The Commission is waiting for the EU’s top court to rule on the conditionality mechanism’s legality before acting. The court is scheduled to make a ruling on February 16.
Based on comments by Advocate General Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona in December, the CJEU is expected to dismiss the joint challenge by Hungary and Poland against the conditionality mechanism that would penalise member states for rule-of-law violations.
If the Commission does choose to withhold Hungary’s funds, it must first go through an extensive back-and-forth period with the country before ultimately submitting a proposal to the Council of the EU.
The EU has started legal action over a laundry list of issues against Hungary: academic freedom, migration and asylum laws, as well as discrimination against the LGBT community. It also has concerns about corruption and media freedom.
As the rule of law procedure takes seven to nine months from the moment it starts, there is still plenty of time to reach an agreement, local media write.
Any decision to launch the procedure right after the February 16 court ruling would require a top-level political decision, with the backing of EU President Ursula von der Leyen, according to Reynders. Local media assume that the EU wants to avoid the impression that it is interfering in the Hungarian elections.
Hungary’s government is also in a feud with the EU over the disbursement of Hungary's Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The government says the EU is resorting to political blackmailing by withholding money.
Fidesz MEP Tamas Deutsch did not rule out a possible legal challenge against the EU, which would further stoke tensions between Budapest and Brussels.