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EU sanctions looming over Hungary

October 1st, 2018

As the payment procedures of EU funds to Hungary grow ever lengthier and the EU mainstream ponders withholding some of them, while an Article 7 procedure takes shape, commentators are sharply divided in their interpretations of this latest standoff between Brussels and Budapest.

In Élet és Irodalom, liberal constitutional lawyer Gábor Halmai welcomes the Sargentini report which was adopted by a large majority of MEPs and opened the way to a procedure that might eventually lead to depriving Hungary of her voting rights in the European Council. He deems such an outcome well nigh impossible, however, since Hungary and Poland would mutually veto any such resolution within the Council. He suggests therefore that the European Union chose the wrong path by activating the article 7 procedure. Instead, he writes, Hungary should be excluded from European subsidy programs. Halmai believes that such hard sanctions might ‘stimulate voters to turn against those responsible for the negative consequences of the sanctions’.

In Heti Világgazdaság, László Seres accuses the government of devising absurd campaigns in response to concrete accusations concerning corruption, the state of the health service or democratic deficits. The latest such campaign, he writes, targets European plans to strengthen Frontex, the border protection agency of the European Union – a plan which is described by the government as an attempt to take over border control from national authorities in order to let in more migrants. Seres admits that it would be problematic if the European Union wanted to tell individual member countries whom they are supposed to let in and live with. He believes however that there is no danger of such an overreach by the European Union. He is convinced that Brussels only wants Frontex to intervene when national border protection breaks down and it would be in Hungary’s own interest to allow Union border guards to step in if needed.

In his Figyelő OpEd piece, on the other hand, Zoltán Kiszelly finds it alarming that the European mainstream plans to extend its control over member countries and cut cohesion and structural funds to East European member states. The Baltic states, which are considered to be good pupils in sharp contrast to Hungary, the black sheep, would get ‘exactly the same gift  Hungary should get in punishment’ – 25% of their structural funds would be redirected towards the southern member countries. He dismisses the allegations of corruption levelled against Hungary arguing that when motorways in Hungary were built by foreign companies, there were no complaints about corruption. As soon as most of the profits remain in Hungary, however, the corruption charges pour in. All in all, he concludes, Ms Sargentini’s name will soon fall into oblivion, just like the name of Mr Tavares, the author of a previous report condemning Hungary, ‘but the damage caused by her report is here to stay’.

In his Hetek editorial, Máté Kulifai asks what the point is in subordinating national border control agencies to Frontex. Why should Frontex extend its control over countries like Hungary which have been able to protect their own borders and thus the Schengen area, he asks. Why can the European Union not allow its member states to decide whether they need help from Frontex or not? Kulifai warns that by taking such a decision away from member countries, the European Union would set out on a dangerous path.

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