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EP committee expresses concerns over Hungary corruption

EU

Image by Botond Horvath / Shutterstock.com

The Budgetary Control Committee (CONT) of the European Parliament (EP) criticized the situation regarding corruption in Hungary in an opinion approved by a vote of 13:2 at a meeting Wednesday.

CONT said in the opinion that "the current level of corruption, and the lack of transparency and accountability of public finances and the ineligible expenditure or overpricing of the financed projects, affects Union funds in Hungary," Hungarian news agency MTI reported. "This might represent a breach of the values referred to in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and warrants the launch of the procedure under Article 7(1) TEU," CONT added.

Such a procedure could ultimately strip Hungary of its EU voting rights. However, that would require a unanimous vote by all other member states, which analysts say is unlikely.

The EPʼs Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) had asked CONT to attach its opinion to a report it is preparing on Hungary. The opinion noted that Hungary had fallen by 19 points in Transparency Internationalʼs Corruption Perception Index since 2008, "making it one of the worst-performing member states," and that the number of investigations carried out by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) in 2013-2016 in relation to Hungary stood at 41, the second-highest number in the EU.

The committee noted "with concern" that the proportion of public procurement procedures that received only a single bid remains "very high" at 36%, which is the second-highest rate in the EU.

CONT expressed regret that "government effectiveness in Hungary has diminished since 1996 and that it is one of the member states with the least effective governments in the Union."

"The low quality of government in Hungary hinders economic development and reduces the impact of public investment," it added.

CONT said Hungaryʼs GDP had grown by 16.1% between 2004 and 2016, "just slightly above the Union average and considerably lower than the growth rates of the other Visegrád countries (Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia)."

CONT called on the European Commission to "incentivize" member states to join the European Public Prosecutorʼs Office (EPPO), pointedly adding - in light of the Hungarian governmentʼs attacks on sections of civil society embodied in a controversial new law on NGOs - that "a vibrant civil society sector should play a vital role in promoting the transparency and accountability of governments."

Fidesz says report is biased

Fidesz MEP Tamás Deutsch, a CONT member, said the document was a one-sided and biased "political pamphlet" that "ignores the facts and contains a lot of slippery and erroneous data."

"The original submission is part and parcel of political charges and the documentʼs statements fall into the category of political bluff and biased, false statements," Deutsch said, adding that the intent behind the Article 7  threat was to persuade the Hungarian government to change its position on migration.

"However, the government remains firmly in favor of the consistent representation of Hungarian interests... and will protect the country against illegal migration," he stressed.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó charged that the report contains a selection of lies and factual errors that put the credibility of the entire document into question. CONTʼs approval of the opinion on the report can be seen as nothing other than a new political attack on Hungary by some institutions in Brussels, he added.

Hungaryʼs macroeconomic data has shown steady improvement since 2010, and this would be impossible if systemic mechanisms of corruption were operating in the country, as EP committees hint, Szijjártó concluded.

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