Progress cited but further talks needed on Norway Grants

Int’l Relations

Progress has been made at talks between Hungarian government representatives and officials of the Financial Mechanism Committee (FMC) concerning Hungary's method of distributing Norway Grants, the chairman of FMC told journalists after the meeting on Thursday.

The meeting was constructive but further talks will be needed, said Anders Erdal in Brussels, where FMC is headquartered. The Hungarian delegation, led by Eszter Vitályos, state secretary at the prime minister's office, declined to talk to the press after the three-hour meeting.

The FMC, the decision-making body for the European Economic Area Grants and for grants provided under the Norway Fund with contributions by Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein, said that "the donor countries are very concerned about the negative effect that the lack of a National Focal Point has had on the implementation of programmes in Hungary.

"Issues related to the implementation structure and civil society will have to be solved," the committee said in a statement. Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein decided on May 9 to suspend further disbursement of funds to Hungary. They stated concern that the Hungarian government had assigned the allocation of the funds to state-owned Széchenyi Programme Office Nonprofit Kft. from January.

The donor countries said this was in breach of agreements concluded earlier, as the Hungarian government had "moved the implementation and monitoring of the Grants scheme out of the central government administration."

The FMC said that "Hungary is a relatively large recipient of EEA and Norway Grants. For the current period, €153.3 mln has been allocated, of which €11.76 mln has already been disbursed." The Hungarian delegation reached an agreement at talks in Brussels over the nine Norway Grant programmes under the scrutiny of the government, while standpoints over the civil fund remained far apart, the deputy state secretary in charge of communication of development policies said.

Nándor Csepreghy said that Hungary accepted Norway's view as regards the liaising unit, which it has agreed to set up within the Prime Minister's office. Disbursement of funds can be re-started in July when officials from the fund pay a visit to Hungary, he added.

He noted that since 2012 Norway had not reacted to reports submitted to them concerning the grants running under the civil fund. The investigation now launched intends to reveal whether disbursements served civil goals or party financing. The delegation also told its negotiating partners that Hungary would soon conclude the investigation conducted by the Government Control Office, he said.

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