Beneath It All in Hungary Is Political Corruption
Hungary is the black sheep of the European Union. Its contrarian agenda offends the common opinion of other Member States. Just recently, the Hungarian government not only threatened to veto the EU recovery budget but also voiced its opposition to the Gender Action Plan, a foreign policy initiative to buttress the rights of women, girls and LGBTQI worldwide. But don’t be fooled: behind this maverick political performance of the Orban Government, lies a shrewd and calculated strategy.
As the EU budget is tied to the respect of the rule of law in the respective Member States, it is not surprising that Hungary, along with Poland, offered such staunch resistance to its passage. However after some tense weeks during which the two central European countries held the other 25 hostage, a compromise was reached whereby the rule of law condition would not be applied retroactively, and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) would review challenges to its legality by member countries prior to implementation. With an average waiting time of two years for cases to be tried by the ECJ, any potential sanction would at the earliest come after the 2022 general elections in Hungary. Until then, the rampant corruption could continue unabated in a country that already tops the European Anti-Fraud Office’s ranking on irregularities committed in EU-financed projects between 2015 and 2019.
A large portion of EU funds distributed in Hungary go through public procurement bidding. According to Transparency International Hungary, these processes are often tailored specifically in order to limit and suppress competition, so that the funds can then be awarded to favored applicants. Corruption is deeply ingrained in this system. Consequently, EU grants often overpay for goods and services. A report by the Corruption Research Center Budapest found that the corruption risk of public procurement in Hungary in 2020 had risen to its highest level since 2005. Unsurprisingly, the European Commission’s Rule of Law Report on Hungary found that the country has issues not only in the justice system, media pluralism, and other institutional issues related to checks and balances, but also within its anti-corruption framework.
The Orban Government’s opposition to the EU Gender Action Plan seems not to be related to the corruption issue, but, in truth, it is yet another red herring. Recently, in arguing for the same political agenda, Hungary outlawed the change of gender assignment at birth, while Fidesz even proposed a constitutional amendment to further curtail LGBTQI rights. The same constitutional amendment that passed on December 15th redefined public funds, making embezzling taxpayer’s money easier, and will change the election laws again in order to hinder opposition parties. For instance, from now on when the Hungarian government provides financial support to foundations, the funds employed will cease to be considered public, making it easier to transfer them to private individuals in a way that is not transparent to taxpayers. Further, the new amendment also raised the number of constituencies in which a party needs to have a candidate in order to have a national list at the election from 27 to 50. This will make it much harder for opposition parties to successfully challenge the ruling coalition during the upcoming elections.
The Hungarian government has also adopted this same strategy at the EU level. Though it frames its opposition to the EU budget, recovery plan, and Gender Action Plan as a fight against George Soros and unrestrained immigration to Hungary, it is not fooling anyone. The true intent underlying these policy positions is to continue to enable rampant political corruption in the country while getting the European Union to foot the bill.
The article is syndicated by 4Liberty.eu Network