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Council pushes Commission to think again about Hungary funds-freeze

Council pushes Commission to think again about Hungary funds-freeze

National capitals call for new report considering measures taken by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government since November 19.
The Czech Presidency of the Council has requested a fresh assessment of the measures taken by Hungary to address anti-corruption concerns.

Last week, the European Commission proposed freezing €7.5 billion in funds meant for Hungary over dissatisfaction with steps taken in Budapest. The rest of the bloc's countries had until December 19 to approve it.

But during a meeting of finance ministers in Brussels on Tuesday, a majority of them, including those of France and Germany, asked for a new analysis. By December 9 they want a report to take into account measures taken by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's government since November 19. That was the original cut-off date of the Commission's initial evaluation.

"This report should include the necessary justificatory elements for the Council to assess the proportionality principle," Czech Finance Minister Zbyněk Stanjura said in a letter addressed to EU Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn and seen by POLITICO.

By mentioning "proportionality," the Council is indicating that the freezing of a lower level of funds than the currently proposed 65 percent of its normal cohesion money might be more appropriate.

Separately, Orbán may escalate the matter to a summit of EU leaders in mid-December.

The Commission will produce an updated assessment by Friday, but this isn’t expected to change the proposal to freeze the full €7.5 billion, EU officials said. Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis on Tuesday said it was "difficult to provide quality assessment in few days' time, but in any case the Commission will engage constructively and we'll do what we can in this very compressed timeline."

The fund freeze is one chapter of a broader tussle between Brussels and Orbán. He's vetoing key decisions by the EU in order to get his recovery plan under the bloc's post-pandemic fund approved. He needs a majority of countries to approve that before the end of the year or risks losing 70 percent of the €5.8 billion in grants connected to it.

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