The Hungarian parliament adopted measures on Wednesday to strengthen the independence of the country’s judiciary in a bid to unlock over €13.2 billion in EU funds.
“The National Assembly has adopted the judicial package,” Justice Minister Judit Varga wrote in a social media post on Wednesday. “Hungary has already fulfilled its commitments related to justice. We expect Brussels to pay the EU funds owed to Hungary,” she added.
The judicial reforms will ensure the independence of the National Judicial Council, a judiciary watchdog, and implement measures to ensure cases heard by both the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court can be referred to the European Court of Justice for preliminary rulings.
Hungary hopes the reforms, based upon an agreement with Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner for budget and administration, will unfreeze some of the €22 billion in EU funding held back by the European Commission last year due to concerns in Brussels about Hungary’s judicial independence.
Three unnamed EU officials told Politico that up to €13.2 billion of the cohesion funds could soon be released to the Hungarian government upon implementation of the reforms.
“We have the green light from Brussels,” Varga wrote on Thursday following meetings with EU officials in Brussels. “Based on yesterday’s notification by the European Justice Commissioner, the government has initiated the submission of the judicial package agreed (upon) with the European Commission to the National Assembly.
“We have delivered on our commitments. Even in the face of the biggest local and international headwinds. We will continue to work to ensure that the Hungarian people get the resources they deserve as soon as possible,” she added.
The remaining funds frozen by Brussels under the controversial conditionality mechanism, a tool that allows the European Commission to prevent the release of EU funding to member states it believes are backsliding on democracy, will only be handed over to Budapest following further agreements on other issues, including education and anti-corruption reforms.
Poland is the only other member state to have been subjected to a delay in the release of key EU funding as Brussels remains at loggerheads with the conservative governments in both Warsaw and Budapest it claims aren’t governing in the “right” way.