The European Parliament’s (EP) budgetary control committee (CONT) has cited “serious corruption” in Hungary in a draft report approved on Wednesday.
The draft opinion says “the current level of corruption, and the lack of transparency and accountability of public finances, affects Union funds in Hungary.” This could harm the European Union’s core values, justifying an Article 7 procedure that would ultimately strip Hungary of its EU voting rights, it said. The Committee on Civil Liberties and Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) has asked CONT to attach its opinion to a forthcoming report LIBE is preparing on Hungary.
The draft opinion states that since 2008 Hungary has fallen by 19 points in the Corruption Perception Index, “making it one of the worst performing” member states.
It noted that the European anti-fraud office (OLAF) conducted 41 investigations between 2013 and 2016, making Hungary the second most investigated EU member.
The committee’s report also criticised shortcomings in public procurement practices in Hungary. It “notes with concern” that the share of public procurement contracts with a single bidder, at 36 percent, was the second highest in the EU.
In the document approved by the committee with 13 members in favour and 2 against, the MEPs insisted that poor governance hindered economic development and reduced the impact of public investment. The committee noted that economic growth in Hungary reached 16.1 percent between 2004 and 2016, slightly exceeding the EU average but significantly lower than the growth rate of the other Visegrad countries.
CONT called on the European Commission to incentivise member states to join the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) and suspend EU funds for those countries unwilling to do so. It also said that a “vibrant civil society plays a vital role in promoting transparency and accountability”.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called the draft LIBE report “the basic document of a show trial”, adding that it contains “lies and factual errors that undermine the whole document’s credibility.” The minister said he definitively rejected the allegations levelled at Hungary in the draft.
Should corruption be as rampant in Hungary as the report suggests, Szijjarto said, the country’s economy would not have increased continuously since 2010, he said. The committee’s decision to accept the draft by a large margin can only be interpreted as a new political attack on Hungary by some Brussels institutions.
Fidesz MEP Tamas Deutsch 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 document’s 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 favour of the consistent representation of Hungarian interests … and will protect the country against illegal migration”.
Democratic Coalition MEP Peter Niedermuller warned that the payment of EU funds may be suspended in the future for states that are unwilling to join the European prosecutor’s office, and this would have grave consequences for Hungary. He insisted that the government was pursuing a “stupid and malicious policy” which lacked the support of its own European political family, the EPP. “Sadly, once again it is the country, the Hungarian people, that could lose out,” he said.