The EU is withholding all of Hungary’s cohesion funds over rights concerns

BRUSSELS, Dec 22 (Reuters) – The European Commission said on Thursday it would withhold all 22 billion euros in EU cohesion funds for Hungary until its government satisfies conditions related to judicial independence, academic freedoms, the rights of LGBTQI and the asylum system fulfilled.

The EU institutions had already decided on December 12 to freeze 6.3 billion euros of funds until Viktor Orban’s right-wing and Eurosceptic government meets an even stricter set of 17 conditions, which also deal with the judiciary and the handling of corruption connected at a high level.

The 22 billion euros are the EU cohesion funds that Hungary is to receive between 2021 and 2027 from the EU’s long-term budget. They are transfers from the EU intended to equalize living standards between the richest and poorest members of the 27-nation EU, mainly disbursed as reimbursements for monies spent by individual governments on agreed goals.

Hungary’s €22 billion is earmarked for programs including education for disadvantaged children, rail modernization, access to broadband and help for regions hit by coal-fired power plant closures.

The decision to withhold the full amount for Hungary came because the Commission and Budapest signed a so-called partnership agreement on Thursday, which will set out how money from the EU budget and 11 operational programs under cohesion policy will be spent.

“The European Commission is of the opinion that the horizontal enabling condition of the Charter of Fundamental Rights has not yet been fulfilled. This means that the European Commission cannot reimburse any expenses. We will continue to work with the Hungarian authorities to overcome this situation,” said Elisa Ferreira, European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms.

A controversial Hungarian anti-LGBTQI+ law restricting teaching in schools about homosexuality and transgender issues, as well as “serious risks to academic freedom and the right to asylum” mean Hungary is not complying with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the commission said . Adding cash could not be paid out until Hungary restored compliance.

The Hungarian government has said the law restricting education about gender and sexual identity is designed to protect children.

What Hungary can get without any prior action is 1.5% of the funds in the form of pre-financing and some cash in the form of technical assistance for the preparation of the projects.

Hungary and the EU have long been at odds over the rule of law, corruption, dealing with sexual minorities, education and migration policies.

In addition to the cohesion funds, the EU is also withholding Hungary’s €5.8 billion in grants from the EU recovery fund until the government addresses concerns about the independence of the courts.

Reporting by Kate Abnett and Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Grant McCool

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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