Why is the topic relevant? The Economic and Financial Affairs Council should hold an extraordinary meeting on Monday 12 December to discuss the Council Implementing Decision on measures to protect the Union budget against infringements of the rule of law in Hungary and the application of the general system of conditionality to protect the Union budget. We believe it is indisputable that the future development of a democratic society in Europe requires a sustained and unwavering fight for the rule of law and the values associated with it. The EU’s resources must not be used in contradiction to the ideals that they are, after all, intended to promote. The European Union, as the guardian of democratic values, must defend its resources from misuse and, at the same time, ensure that they are managed responsibly. Therefore, the blocking of funds is not primarily a sanction against Hungary, although this is a view that Viktor Orbán’s government is happy to feed. It is a natural consequence of the desire to protect EU funds. Systematic irregularities and shortcomings in the allocation of public contracts, the circumvention of ineffective anti-corruption regulations or the lack of transparency in the handling of EU funds. These are just some of the reasons why the European Commission has had a long-standing (but intensive) dialogue with the Hungarian government and authorities. However, the dialogue, with the clear aim of remedying this dismal situation, has so far failed to produce tangible results.
Why is the current situation a risk for the Czech Republic? Apart from the obvious damage caused to the EU and, by extension, to Member States by the misuse of EU funds for dubious purposes, the current situation could easily set a dangerous precedent. Non-transparent and distorted allocation of public procurement cannot be tolerated, as the opposite would send a significant negative signal. Without the will to categorically condemn these undesirable manifestations and to hold them accountable, the Hungarian scenario could be repeated elsewhere. Hungary’s lax approach or even support in this matter therefore goes directly against the protection of the ideals of the rule of law. The fact that there are minority voices in the middle of the EU against the freezing of funds only reinforces the fact that the risks are considerable.
How should the Czech Republic proceed? The Czech government should support the planned restriction of EU funds to Hungary until there is a demonstrable systemic change in the Hungarian government’s approach to respecting the basic principles of the rule of law. The fight for ideals is often symbolic and principled. By the same token, strict, categorical support for the proposed decision is very important, as a number of stakeholders have jointly pointed out to the Government in their open letter on the subject. This document, which was supported by six platforms and also by a coalition of sixteen leading Czech NGOs, calls on the government to vote unequivocally in favour of freezing the funds.