On Wednesday, Brussels triggered its rule of law mechanism for the first time ever, warning Hungary it could lose European Union funds.
Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for Budget and Administration, said Budapest must now respond to the Commission’s concerns.
The process should now take several months.
The mechanism was approved by the Court of Justice of the European Communities earlier this year following a challenge from Hungary and Poland, which have drawn the ire of the Commission in recent years over reforms restricting the independence of the judiciary and civil society, or targeting the rights of minorities, including women. and LGBTQI+ citizens.
EU officials stressed that if it continues the mechanism and withholds Hungary’s funds, it will not be sanctions or fines but “measures to protect the budget”.
The payments withheld will have to be “strictly proportionate to the impact of the breach on the (European) Union budget”, the officials added, and will therefore depend on “the nature of the breach and the seriousness of the breach”.
In the Commission’s crosshairs are corruption and allegations that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his allies have diverted EU money from recipients, including NGOs.
But concern is growing that the requirement that breaches must have had an impact on the EU budget could prevent the bloc from using the mechanism for less quantifiable breaches – including pressure on governments. media, the justice system or attacks on minority rights.