Parliament takes Commission to court over Orbán payoff

Parliament takes Commission to court over Orbán payoff
# 12 March 2024 11:12 (UTC +04:00)

In a historic step, the European Parliament will take the Commission to court over its €10.2 billion payoff for Hungary, people involved in the decision told Playbook, APA reports citing Politico.

It comes after Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen last December controversially unblocked EU funds for Budapest, which were frozen over corruption and rule-of-law concerns. The move came ahead of a crucial summit at which Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán was threatening to derail the Union’s joint position on Ukraine.

Parliament’s legal affairs committee met behind closed doors last night to decide to sue the EU executive over what it argues was a breach of its obligation to protect taxpayer money from being misused.

According to Politico, the committee backed the lawsuit with 16 members in favor, one opposed (from the far right), and zero abstentions. (The payoff last December was widely criticized by MEPs and even by Commission officials as a sign that Brussels was giving in to Orbán’s blackmail.)

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The support across party lines for the lawsuit sends a clear signal to the Commission. Von der Leyen’s own political group, the center-right European People’s Party, is backing the decision, with its leader Manfred Weber (and his predecessor Donald Tusk) having stressed the importance of defending the rule of law ahead of the June EU election.

“We believe we have a solid case, as the Commission has contradicted itself on whether Hungary is respecting the rule of law,” MEP Daniel Freund told Playbook last night. “The Court of Justice of the EU has always stood up for the independence of the courts.”

The committee’s move is designed as “a sign to the Commission president that the rule of law can’t be traded for deals with Orbán,” Freund said.

There’s no case law yet on how much leeway the Commission has when deciding whether to freeze funds under the common provisions regulation. But the judges have consistently ruled in favor of the independence of courts and upholding the EU’s foundations.

On Thursday, political group leaders will meet in the Conference of Presidents to give the final green light to President Roberta Metsola to take the Commission to court before a March 25 deadline. Along with the leaders of the S&D, Greens, Left, and liberals, Weber will vote in favor of the move, officials told Playbook.