Hungary must act to get EU COVID-19 funds, says Czech minister

By Thomson Reuters Aug 30, 2022 | 11:28 AM

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Hungary must take action on changing its rule of law before it can receive any European Union recovery funds, the EU affairs chief of the Czech government, which holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, said in an interview on Tuesday.

Hungary and Poland both have yet to receive billions of euros of post-COVID EU recovery funds as the governments have not met Brussels’ demands on respecting the rule of law.

Hungary said last week it would amend several laws criticised by the European Commission by the end of October if an agreement on financial aid is reached. The Commission has a month to analyse Budapest’s response in the so-called conditionality mechanism. Hungary did not specify when the agreement must be reached.

Czech EU Affairs Minister Mikulas Bek said there is hardly any willingness in the Commission or among the member countries to accept Hungary’s promises without seeing action first.

“I am not sure that dialogue can facilitate anything in this matter (anymore),” he added, saying ultimately Hungary’s financial interests could drive it to make the desired changes.

In Poland, funds are being held up by a clash over Polish judicial reforms, which the EU executive said subvert democratic standards.

Bek told Reuters that while Poland has started working towards a solution, Hungary’s credibility is damaged by its lack of solidarity on certain EU issues, for example its demand to drop Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill from an anti-Russian sanctions list.

Warsaw has signalled it might retaliate by vetoing EU policy plans that require unanimity if it does not get its share of the pandemic recovery funds.

Bek warned that member countries should think carefully about an EU veto threat, especially at a time when the bloc is facing an unprecedented crisis.

In its presidency role, the Czech Republic has a louder voice in long-running disputes the EU executive has with its central European allies Hungary and Poland.

But the so-called Visegrad partnership between central European neighbours the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia has grown tense due to disagreements over the war in Ukraine, with Budapest taking a more cautious stance than its neighbours, as well as spats over democratic standards.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Josie Kao)