The European Parliament has passed a resolution paving the way for possible legal action against the European Commission over the release of €10 billion in frozen funds to Hungary. The move comes as the bloc’s members tussle over aid packages for Ukraine.
The commision, the EU’s executive arm, released the €10 billion to Hungary on the eve of a summit last month as Brussels looked to win Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s backing for more support for Ukraine.
The commission argued that Hungary had passed legislation to improve the independence of its judiciary and therefore had the right to access the funds.
But lawmakers said Budapest had not fulfilled the reforms and instead accused the commission of caving in to pressure from Orban, a far-right populist.
“Parliament will look into whether legal action should be pursued to overturn the decision to partially unfreeze funds, and notes that it can use an array of legal and political measures,” the legislature said in a statement.
It also called for EU member states to push forward a procedure against Hungary started in 2018 over its backsliding on key EU democratic standards.
That procedure could lead to Hungary’s voting rights in EU meetings being suspended. Billions frozen
Billions of euros earmarked for Hungary remain frozen by Brussels pending progress on rule-of-law issues such as stricter conditions for awarding public contracts, protecting academic freedom, ensuring the rights of LGBTQ people, and accepting the right of migrants to claim asylum.
In December, Orban vetoed €50 billion in fresh EU aid for Ukraine over the next four years and abstained from a decision to open talks with Kyiv on joining the bloc.
In return for lifting his veto, Orban had demanded in mid-December the payment of all EU funds allocated to Hungary.
Orban on Thursday called for EU support to Ukraine to be reviewed annually, as difficult negotiations on the issue continue ahead of a summit set for 1 February.
He criticised “liberal” politicians for wanting “to give money to Ukraine over four years”, claiming it would be undemocratic to do so just ahead of the European Parliament elections in June.
“If we want to help Ukraine, let’s do it outside the EU-budget and on a yearly basis. This is the only democratic position just five months before the elections,” Orban wrote on X.
His proposal is in stark contrast with a recent appeal by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to provide Ukrainians with “predictable financing throughout 2024 and beyond” to help the country regain “its rightful territory”.
Orban is the only EU leader who has maintained close ties with the Kremlin following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Budapest has signalled it could be ready to compromise and agree to the aid – if it is given the chance each year to veto further payments.
EU officials say that if they cannot win over Hungary, the other 26 member states will look to provide cash outside the EU’s budget, but this is likely to be for a shorter timeframe.