BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s government has pledged to set up its own anti-corruption agency in an effort to unlock billions in European Union funding that the bloc has withheld over rule-of-law and graft concerns.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban signed the decree published late Monday which will establish an “independent authority to prevent, detect and correct illegalities and irregularities” concerning the handling of EU funds.
The agency will be tasked with stepping in when it deems national authorities have not acted sufficiently to prevent or investigate cases of fraud, corruption, conflicts of interest and other violations, according to the decree.
The move appeared to be a concession by Hungary’s nationalist government to the EU executive, which must decide this month whether to approve Hungary’s application for billions in recovery funds meant to assist European economies damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The European Commission has withheld those funds for over a year as it has sought to address what it sees as a rollback in Hungary’s democratic credentials, and alleged corruption that funnels EU money to politically connected insiders.
A large recipient of EU funds, Hungary has come under increasing criticism over the past few years for veering away from democratic norms with policies such as exerting excessive control over the judiciary, stifling media freedom and denying the rights of LGBT people.
Yet with inflation and energy prices soaring and Hungary’s currency, the forint, at historic lows against the euro and dollar, Orban’s government needs the nearly 6 billion euros (dollars) in recovery funds to spare its economy from a recession.
The new anti-corruption agency will begin operating on Nov. 21, and a separate anti-corruption task force, made up of both governmental and non-governmental delegates, will be established by Dec. 1.
In 2021, Hungary’s government opted out of joining the European Public Prosecutors Office — an independent EU body tasked with combating crimes affecting the financial interests of the bloc — arguing that joining would amount to a loss of national sovereignty.
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