Several more months of waiting for blocked EU funds likely for Hungary, EU Affairs Minister suggests

September 13. 2023. – 09:57 AM


Several more months of waiting for blocked EU funds likely for Hungary, EU Affairs Minister suggests
János Bóka, Hungarian Minister for European Affairs and Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament – Photo: János Bóka / Facebook


Copied to clipboard

János Bóka, who was appointed Hungary's European Affairs Minister in the summer, met with President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola on Tuesday to discuss next year's Hungarian presidency of the EU Council, he wrote on Facebook.

Cooperation, cooperation and more cooperation

"For a well-functioning European Union, we need cooperating institutions," he stressed. During his visit to Strasbourg, he assured the President of the European Parliament that this was what the Hungarian government would strive to achieve during its presidency.

It was no coincidence that he mentioned institutional cooperation three times in four sentences in his Facebook-post: in June, the EP passed a non-binding resolution questioning "how Hungary will be able to credibly" hold the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers in 2024. MEPs asked the Council to "find an appropriate solution as soon as possible", otherwise "Parliament may take appropriate measures".

As previously written, the EP has no direct say in the governance of the other EU institutions. Although a qualified majority in the Council may change the pre-established order, this possibility has only been publicly raised by one or two governments. The EP could, however, sour the Hungarian presidency due in the second half of 2024. For example, Dutch Liberal Sophie in 't Veld argued that "we need to strip this presidency of all the glamour: no group photos, no joint press conferences" and suggested that legislative cooperation between the two decision-making bodies should be kept to "the lowest possible level".

A subtle indication that the trio of presidencies is already underway

According to Portfolio, János Bóka said on Tuesday that during the talks there was no hesitancy about the Hungarian presidency going ahead. Both the Council and the European Parliament are preparing for Hungary to take over the baton in the second half of 2024. "The trio presidency programme has been adopted by the Council," he said, indicating that the Spanish-Belgian-Hungarian trio has been working together since July anyway. (The presidencies are loosely connected to ensure that the transitions between them are smooth.)

“We are preparing for Hungary to hold the presidency of the Council in the second half of 2024, and so is everyone else.”

The minister also met with leaders of parliamentary groups, including the leader of the Greens, who are often critical of the Hungarian government, as well as the chairs of parliamentary committees, such as the constitutional and judicial committee, which are often involved in matters concerning Hungary. "My objective is to repeat this visit several times in the run-up to the presidency," he said. He would like to meet with all political groups to discuss the presidency's objectives and institutional cooperation.

EU funds are no Advent calendar

Portfolio also asked the minister about the frozen EU payments. He responded that "the question didn't come up during his talks with the EP leaders".(Even though Fidesz- and other governing party politicians have frequently suggested that pressure from MEPs, especially of the Hungarian opposition parties', was the reason for the delay in starting the transfers, this institution has no direct role in the dispute.)

János Bóka did not wish to talk about "calendar issues", but said that "this issue will not overshadow the Hungarian presidency", and he added:

"I would caution everyone against seeing the coming weeks and months as a pre-Christmas period,

when we open the tabs of the Advent calendar to see if there is chocolate behind it". In other words, no payments are expected for months, but he expects the disputes to be resolved by the middle of next year.

As we have previously reported, using a complex set of conditions, the EU has blocked most of the new funding available to Hungary from 2021. In theory, the biggest amount from the catch-up funds in the 2021-2027 budget could be unlocked for Hungary through the judicial reform, which the government has signed into law and announced in July, immediately attaching the first payment request to it. The European Commission has 90 days to evaluate the former and 60 days to review the latter – meaning that if all goes smoothly, payments can indeed be expected in roughly the timeframe the minister has talked about.

The advance payment will be discussed later

Besides the seven-year budget, the other big pool of money is the one-off recovery fund, from which Hungary has received absolutely nothing. The Hungarian government has added an energy chapter to its spending plan for these funds, and at the very end of August, asked for 3.9 of the €9.8bn optional credit on top of the previously requested non-reimbursable part.

This may be a partial way around the blocking: an advance of up to 20 percent is provided in this case, which the government insisted on. As Portfolio wrote earlier, it is not clear from the regulations whether this should also be withheld on account of the 27 super-milestones which are blocking the recovery fund. As for the advance from the 2021-2027 budget, the Orbán government already received it last December. If the new chapter of the recovery plan (with a €0.7 billion non-refundable grant on top of the €3.9 billion loan) – which has to be evaluated within two months – is approved, then this detour would bring in around €900 million.

János Bóka said on Tuesday that the issue of the advance had not come up either that day or the week before, when he traveled to Brussels with Regional Development Minister Tibor Navracsics, who usually negotiates about financial matters. According to Bóka, it will be worth talking about it when the EU adopts the amendment to the recovery plan.

Bóka: no need for passing more legislation to get the funds – but there is still at least one left

According to Portfolio, the minister stressed that the Hungarian government does not see the need for passing additional legislation before EU funds can arrive. He probably meant this in relation to the first payments only, as in the case of the public trust foundations, it is not only the necessary legislation that is missing before fresh funds can be received, but there hasn't even been an agreement in principle. This is causing problems for the universities which underwent a model change, and are now run by foundations, especially regarding two programmes, the Erasmus+ educational exchanges and the Horizon Europe research cooperation. The latter have been complaining about losses of millions of euros months ago.

The issue of the foundations is also included in the 27 super-milestones of the recovery fund and it is also blocking part of the funds available from the budget. On this matter, Tibor Navracsics recently set a target date of 23 November.

For more quick, accurate and impartial news from and about Hungary, subscribe to the Telex English newsletter!