Minister without portfolio for regional development Tibor Navracsics called a special press conference on Thursday, 5 October to comment on the news breaking earlier this week that the EU Commission is allegedly willing to unfreeze €13 billion of the funds due to Hungary. The story came as a bit of a surprise, so much so that, according to Minister Navracsics, even the Orbán administration learnt about the development from the press.
Thus, the primary source for this piece of information is the Financial Times, a London-based daily business newspaper with a reputation for trustworthiness. However, as the minister pointed out, members of the cabinet have yet to receive any official notice from the Commission itself, as they only got questions so far. He sarcastically remarked that information being leaked first to the press is actually not something out of the ordinary, in a jab at the unusual ways of the Brussels bureaucracy.
Nevertheless, Minister Navracsics spoke optimisticly about the incoming EU funds, and told reporters he would not ask for confirmation from the EU if FT’s reportings are correct. As he pointed out, the Hungarian National Assembly passed the legislative package outlining the judicial reforms back in May. According to Navracsics, the EU felt it was a sufficient step in making public tenders more transparent. ‘Thus, we’ve been ready to make an agreement since June, we are ready to sign a deal,’ he added, in reference to the ongoing negotiations between EU officials and the Hungarian government.
As for the allocation of the incoming funds, about 2 trillion HUF (€5.16 billion) is held up in the Union’s territorial and settlement development operational programme, and another 1.5 trillion HUF (€3.87 billion) each could be coming through the environmental and energy efficiency and the integrated transport operative programmes, as outlined by Minister Navracsics. About 45 per cent of those sums in total have been supposedly unblocked in these three programmes. He went on to point out that tenders had already been announced for about half of the funds provided by the territorial and settlement development OP, which have been financed by the national budget so far.
Another 2.3 trillion HUF (€5.93 billion) could be accessed through The Recovery and Resilience Facility, Navracsics continued, then expressing hope that
actual wire transfers could be coming through as early as November.
He went on to point out that Hungary is not alone in its struggle to get its due payment from the Union—eight other Member States have not seen a euro cent of the recovery funds either.
To the question if the unlocked funds can be used to give pay raises to people working in public education, the minister replied ‘let’s not put the cart before the horse’, implying that he would wait for further development before the administration can commit to that. However, he has agreed that if the government does in fact gain access to these resources, its intention is to raise teachers’ salaries.
At last, he claimed that he believes the Hungarian government has fulfilled all the criteria set by the EU Commission to access the funds; and was able to make additional compromises during negotiations that should satisfy both parties, Hungary and the EU as well.
Hungary’s Frozen EU Funds
The EU first blocked funding to Hungary in July 2021, originally about €7 billion of COVID-19 recovery funds, allegedly over corruption concerns. However, the timing of that decision suspiciously coincided with the backlash over the then-recently passed Child Protection Act from Western leaders and media. The withheld funds have since ballooned up to €36 billion.