Additional bills required for EU fund payout adopted by Hungarian Parliament
October 04. 2022. – 03:06 PM
On Tuesday morning, the Hungarian Parliament adopted the additional bills that the governing parties have submitted in order to reach an agreement with the European Commission. One was already passed on Monday and four more on Tuesday. It is no coincidence that the vote in parliament was done so quickly, as there is a total of HUF 3000 billion forints at stake.
An anti-corruption institution, greater social consultation
A completely new anti-corruption institution called the "Integrity Authority" will be created based on the "Amendments to the Law on the control of the use of funds from the EU budget" and the "Law on the amendment of certain laws related to the control of the use of EU budget funds". According to the government's intentions, this authority will be able to prevent and control fraud, conflicts of interest and corruption. But it can only do this for projects funded by the European Union. The work of the Integrity Authority is set to begin on 19 November.
The MPs also voted on the anti-corruption task force, which will consist of 21 members, with 10 of them civilians. It would be chaired by the chairman of the Integrity Authority. The group was originally to be composed only of heads of public organisations, but after negotiations with the Commission, the new plans involve an equal number of government and non-government members. The task force will be expected to produce an annual report for the government, which would include proposals on how to prevent, detect and sanction corruption. It should be up and running by 1 December at the latest.
This body will also facilitate access to data of public interest during the state of danger. According to the amendments, the labour costs of releasing data of public interest will no longer be charged and the time limit provisions will also be modified.
For example, the bill called "About the amendment of certain laws in order to reach an agreement with the European Commission", states that the National Tax Authority (NAV) will actively assist OLAF investigations. This means that the National Tax and Customs Office will be responsible for supporting OLAF investigations or on-the-spot checks. Special rules on the actions of the tax authorities would allow OLAF staff to enter the premises under investigation or any other area used for business purposes along with NAV financial officers. By securing the premises, the financial officers would support the smooth conduct of the investigation, allowing OLAF inspectors access to necessary documents and data carriers as well as protecting them against any physical resistance. If someone does not cooperate, NAV will be able to impose an administrative fine of one million forints, even repeatedly.
Rules about conflict of interest in case of public trust foundations have also been amended. This means that in the future, trustees will no longer be allowed to participate in decisions that could affect them, their relatives or people close to them by virtue of their friendship or political sympathies. In addition, the Public Procurement Act will be amended to include public trusts with a public service mission among those who are obliged to tender for public contracts.
By voting in favour of the law "Amendment to Act CXXX of 2010 on Legislation and Act CXXXI of 2010 on Public Participation in the Preparation of Legislation in order to reach an agreement with the European Commission", the government has committed to submitting ninety percent of draft legislation for public consultation and to reducing fast law-making – if the legislation is published in the Hungarian Gazette. Compliance with this commitment is to be monitored by the Government Inspection Office, which can impose procedural fines if it were to identify a breach of the commitment.
The law adopted on Monday to be sent to the Constitutional Court right away
In addition, an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code was also adopted on Monday. The most important point of this is that in the future, the so-called "charge enforcement" will be available to anyone in high-profile corruption cases. Up until now, if the prosecutor's office dropped a corruption case, only those concerned could request a substitute private prosecution and initiate a repeated legal procedure, and no one else would be notified of the investigation having been closed. However, after the amendment, anyone can seek redress in corruption cases. At the same time, according to K-Monitor, the role of the prosecutor's office will remain crucial.
To this end, a resolution brought by the government was approved on Tuesday. According to this, Speaker László Kövér will not yet send the law adopted on Monday to the President for signature, (as is customary), but will immediately forward it to the Constitutional Court, and request that they review the law to ensure it is compatible with the Basic Law. The Constitutional Court is required to decide whether "a person other than the Public Prosecutor's Office has the right to bring charges against a person before the court, i.e. whether the new legal institution to be introduced by the law is in line with the principle of the prosecution monopoly on charges, as laid down in paragraph (1) of Article 29 of the Fundamental Law". If the panel finds that the law is contrary to the Constitution, Parliament will then re-examine the law.
The government has already made seventeen promises to the Commission in order to obtain the funds, and the steps to be taken even reach the Prime Minister's Office. The European Commission says that if the government fulfills its commitments by the end of November, it will be granted access to the 3,000 billion forints, as the funds are protected.
We wrote earlier about the freezing of the gigantic sum and the rule of law mechanism to which it is linked, as well as that according to K-Monitor, the direction is good but gaps remain and the legislative proposals committed to the EU are not necessarily a cure-all.
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The translation of this article was made possible by our cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation.