Brussels wants to freeze funds to Hungary over violating the rule of law

Brussels/Budapest (EFE) – The European Commission on Sunday proposed suspending the payment of 7.5 billion in European funds to Hungary due to continuing violations of the principles of the rule of law, especially in the fight against corruption and fraud in public procurement.

“We ask to suspend the disbursement of 65 percent of the commitments of three operational programs of the Cohesion Policy for an estimated amount of 7.5 billion euros, which represents more than a third of Hungary’s cohesion endowment,”

said Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for Budgets.

The freezing of funds must now be approved within one month by the rest of the Member States by a qualified majority. This means that Poland – Hungary’s major partner in these matters – has no veto power. However, this deadline can be extended by another two months: Hahn said the EU Commission will submit the proposal to the Member States no later than September 22 and will ask them to extend the deadline for them to decide. Budapest is committed to fully informing the Commission about the implementation of the corrective measures by November 19, according to EU sources.

Brussels decided to take this step while waiting for the Government of Viktor Orbán to implement the promised reforms to resolve the deficiencies identified by the EU authorities and which led to the proposed suspension of payments. The Hungarian Government, for its part, said it will continue to negotiate to prevent the funding cut from taking effect. The Commission’s decision, which was taken on Sunday because the Commissioners could not meet this Wednesday due to agenda incompatibilities, came in the same week in which the European Parliament warned that Hungary was already “a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy” and not a democracy. (18. September)

New law on media freedom in the EU, North Macedonia must adapt

Brussels (MIA) – The European Commission has tabled a series of new rules to protect pluralism and independence in the media across the EU, whether they are private or state-funded. Although these rules apply to the EU member states, candidate countries are expected to integrate them into their laws and practices, said the EU Commissioner for Transparency and Values, Vera Jourova. The new legislation is aimed at ending political and party influence in the media so that journalists can work freely. State advertising is also under scrutiny.

Under the new rules, the funding of state and public media will have to be adequate, stable, predictable and ensure independence.

The law will be important for candidate countries and negotiating countries, such as North Macedonia, because it will be one of the conditions in the accession process.

“We made it clear that we consider the situation with the media to be an important element for assessing the quality and sustainability in the candidate countries, it is on the radar of our negotiators,” said Vera Jourova.

She added that for the representatives of candidate countries such as North Macedonia, this was a “clear signal” that the EU aimed for stronger protection of the media, and that this would be part of the negotiations with the EU.

The European Commissioner for the EU’s internal market, Thierry Breton, added that when a country becomes a member of the EU, it must fully comply with the rules of the internal market.

“Candidate countries will have to fulfill all aspects of the internal market, respect EU legislation, and the European Commission will have all the tools to ensure that things go in the right direction,” Breton said. (16. September)

Culture Ministry and several Slovenian MEPs welcome new EU media proposal 

Ljubljana/Brussels (STA)- Slovenia’s Ministry of Culture welcomed the proposal of the EU Commission for a new media law. Brussels wants to ensure the transparent functioning of the media in the internal market, taking into account the impact of digital transformation and the influence of large platforms, the ministry said following Friday’s presentation. The European Media Act also seeks to increase the freedom and independence of the media.

When asked whether the Slovenian legislation met the requirements of this law or whether changes will be needed, the Ministry said it could not comment further on the proposal as it had only learned of it on the day it was presented.

However, when asked whether Slovenia supported the proposal and whether it had participated in its preparation, the Ministry said that in preparing the proposal for the act, the Commission had conducted extensive public consultations involving Slovenian experts and media representatives. Slovenia would participate in debating the act in the framework of the work of the EU Council in the coming months.

The proposal for an act on freedom of the media was welcomed by the majority of Slovenian MEPs. Irena Joveva, member of the Renew Europe-group in the European Parliament, said it was urgently needed legislation at EU level as media freedom had been in precipitous decline in many member states in recent years.  Her party colleague Klemen Grošelj (Renew), however, regretted that one of the triggers for the proposed law was the behaviour of the previous government led by Janez Janša, which systematically financially drained the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and restricted the freedom of the media sector. He added that he saw a continuation in the behaviour of the current RTV management (national broadcaster) and the members of the Programme Council appointed by the previous session of the National Assembly. Matjaž Nemec of the Social Democrats in the European Parliament said the proposals represented a “turning point” as they would permit action in cases of violation of media freedom in EU member states. Ljudmila Novak, member of the European People’s Party, on the other hand, argued that objective, fact-based media reporting and legitimate criticism of the authorities were two fundamental values that should be respected by the media and the authorities. (16. September)

BiH and EU Continue Cooperation in Migration Management

Sarajevo (FENA)- The European Union has positively assessed the initiated processes of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) on the repatriation of migrants to their countries of origin, as well as the overall cooperation with the Ministry of Security of BiH in migration management.

The representatives of the Ministry of Security of BiH, Saša Kecman, and the Deputy Director of the Service for Foreigner Affairs of BiH, Mirsad Buzar, discussed these issues with EU officials in Brussels.

During the meeting with the Head of the Department for BiH and Kosovo, Vassilis Maragos, and Head of the Migration Support Department at the Directorate for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement (DG NEAR), Francisco Gaztelu, they discussed the current situation in migration management and future cooperation in this area.

The participants pointed out that the return of illegal migrants remains a priority for BiH, but also for the EU. Soon, EU funding for this purpose is expected to be operational so that repatriations of larger groups of migrants can be carried out. (15. September)

Croatia withdraws 8.13 billion euros from EU funds in 9 years of membership

Zagreb (HINA)- Croatia withdrew 8.13 billion euros from European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) from 2013 to September 8 this year, almost 76 percent of EU funds allocated, while the state budget is in plus for HRK 64.85 billion (8.623 billion euros), the Ministry for Regional Development and EU Funds said on September 14.

Minister Nataša Tramišak presented a report on the use of ESIF funds on September 14 at the Government session, which was then adopted, the statement said.

According to the ministry, the ESIF had a total of EUR 10.73 billion (HRK 81.56 billion) available to Croatia for the period 2014-2020.

By 8 September this year, projects worth 13.64 billion euros (or 103.69 billion kuna), or 127.14 percent of the allocated funds were contracted.

In total, 8.13 billion euros (HRK 61.81 billion) were paid, or 75.79 percent of the allocated funds, and 6.9 billion euros (HRK 52.47 billion), or 64.34 percent of the allocated funds were certified.

If the 763.17 million euros from REACT EU and 597.56 million euros added to the Rural Development Program are added to the original allocation of the ESI funds 2014-202, the total allocation by 2023 is 12.09 billion euros.

In the period from 2013 to 8 September this year, the difference between the paid funds from the EU budget to the budget of the Republic of Croatia and the funds paid from the budget of the Republic of Croatia to the EU budget amounts to 53.45 billion kuna (7.106 billion euros) in favor of the budget of the Republic of Croatia.
Including the paid advance for the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NPOO), Croatia has a surplus of HRK 64.85 billion (8.623 billion euros), according to the Ministry’s announcement. (14. September)

This is a compilation of the European coverage of enr news agencies. It is published Wednesdays and Fridays. The content is an editorial selection based on news by the respective agency.