In recent months, the Commission has engaged in an intensive dialogue with the Hungarian Government, in the framework of which Hungary proposed broad corrective measures to dispel the concerns expressed by the Commission when the procedure was officially launched on 27 April this year. Under this procedure, the Commission first sent a letter to Hungary concerning the measures it intended to propose to the Council. In response, Hungary sent a description of the proposed corrective measures on 22 August and provided further clarification on 13 September.
The Commission analysed Hungary’s submission in depth, in particular examining whether the proposed corrective measures are an adequate response to the Commission’s initial findings. According to the Commission, the measures are appropriate if they put an end to the violation of the principles of the rule of law and/or the resulting risks affecting the EU budget and the EU’s financial interests.
The Commission concluded that the proposed corrective measures are in principle suitable to address the issues raised, but only if they are properly and sufficiently detailed in the legislation and regulation and implemented in an appropriate manner.
The Hungarian Government can exhaustively fulfil its commitments to the Commission until 19 November, in particular to eradicate corruption in the country, concerns raised by Brussels. As a result of the fruitful and constructive dialogue between the Government and the Commission, in which the Government were committed to mitigate the noise surrounding the disputes as soon as possible, on 10 October 2022 the National Assembly adopted laws related to the control of the use of EU budget resources, which were submitted based on the agreements with the European Commission reached so far.
Among the adopted laws, Act XXVII of 2022 on the monitoring of the use of EU budget resources governs the fulfilment of one of the corrective measures taken towards the European Commission, which provides for the establishment of the first and unique authority in the history of Hungarian politics and administration, the Integrity Authority (“Authority”). By adopting this law, the primary objective of the National Assembly is to establish an institutional system to provide even more effective monitoring over the use of European Union budget resources and comply with the measures proposed in the framework of the procedure under Regulation (EU) 2020/2092 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2020 on a general regime of conditionality for the protection of the EU budget.
Pursuant to the legislation, the Authority, established as an autonomous state administrative body, will act in all cases where, in its view, an organization with responsibility and competence in the implementation or monitoring of European Union funds, including the contracting party, has not taken the necessary steps to prevent, detect and correct fraud, conflicts of interest, corruption and any other infringement or irregularity affecting its sound financial management of the European Union budget or the protection of the European Union’s financial interests, or where there is a serious risk thereof. The Authority shall be competent, in particular in respect of planned, ongoing or previous measures or projects receiving financial support in part or in whole from the European Union. The regulation adopted to ensure the independence of the Authority should be emphasised, according to which the Authority may only be assigned a task by law, its budget is a separate chapter in the structural order of the central budget, its budget proposal and its implementation are compiled by itself, and the current Hungarian government is obliged to submit it without changes as part of the draft law on the State Budget and its implementation. Furthermore, in order to achieve the objective of ensuring that the bodies of the European Union are informed in a timely manner on the proceedings of the Authority, the Authority should, in addition to the national competent authorities and organizations, notify the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and, in the case of domestic prosecution competence, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office as well. Nonplus ultra, the civil servant of the Authority is obliged to report a criminal offence.
To put it briefly, the Authority may not be instructed by anyone in the performance of its tasks, while its budget must not be affected by the current Hungarian government, and it is obliged to inform the bodies of the European Union about its procedures. i.e., the conditions for the independent and transparent operation of the Authority are clearly ensured.
Despite the continuous progress of the consultations between the Hungarian Government and the Commission, not in an extraordinary way, independent civil organizations, or NGOs – even more so organizations that constantly advertise their anti-government embeddedness – in our case Transparency International Hungary, even before the draft law was fully known, on 16 September 2022, criticised the rudimentary form of the commitments made in connection with the monitoring of EU funds. However, after studying the specific normative text and all the realization of the expectations contained in its previous position, its opinion did not change. All this shows that – regardless of any initiative or offer by the government at any level – the end result cannot reach the level expected by NGOs, and the Hungarian Government’s alternative to any problem can only be democratic and in line with the rule of law after full approval by NGOs.
Basically, three NGOs (K-Monitor, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Transparency International Hungary) explain in their joint analysis published on 7 October 2022 that the measures adopted by a two-third majority in Parliament are partly forward-looking, but in their view the laws do not go far enough and are seriously deficient.
Here it is necessary to highlight the first contradiction,
After all this, the NGOs expressed considerable doubts about the independence of the institution of the Integrity Authority. In addition to what has been pointed out above without a precise statutory reference, in order to quickly allay the aforementioned concern, let us look at Section 1(2) of the Act establishing the Authority, which states that “the Authority, including its Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson and all its staff, is completely independent in the performance of its tasks, subject only to the law, shall not be instructed by any other person or body in its function, and shall carry out its tasks separately from other bodies and free from influence. The Authority may only be assigned a task by law”, that is, the provisions regulating the independence of the Authority are already laid down in the first section of the Act. As mentioned earlier in this analysis, the legislator provides the Authority as an autonomous state administrative body with several guarantees that serve the independence of the institution: The Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson of the Authority shall be free from direct political influence, the Authority shall set its own budget, which shall not be unilaterally amended or reduced by the government without the consent of the Authority.
According to the law, the main decision-making body of the Authority is the Directorate of the Authority. In order to achieve full independence, only an expert who has been free of any political activity in the five years prior to the nomination, be it public leadership or participation in a party, can apply to become a member of the committee that selects the members of the Directorate (the Eligibility Committee Responsible for the Selection of Members of the Authority Directorate). Transparency International has nominated three people to lead the Integrity Authority to ensure that the members of the Eligibility Committee live with integrity, cannot be accused of bias in favour of anyone, and are highly competent experts. They are convinced that Péter Ákos Bod, Dávid Jancsics and Miklós Marschall meet these requirements. Of course, nothing shows the political link better than the fact that Transparency International Hungary, generously sponsored by George Soros, has nominated only anti-government individuals who have expressed their critical opinions, popping up again and again in public life in recent years. Péter Ákos Bod, former MNB president, says that he is opposition-mined, co-founder of the 99 Mozgalom founded by Gergely Karácsony, and in case the joint list of the six-party opposition had won, Péter Ákos Bod would have been responsible for economic, budgetary and tax matters in the government led by Péter Márki-Zay, so he would by no means meet the conflict-of-interest criterion. In addition to all this, Dávid Jancsics, who now lives and works in the United States, is presumably in a position far from the basic condition of independence, i.e., his election would also be of concern. It is enough to quote his following statements: “More corruption would cause political instability, this is clearly untrue for the Russian example, but it is not clearly true for the Hungarian example either. What is happening here is that corruption is ingrained in the everyday political machine, and we no longer call it corruption: laws are being adjusted to it, and the last 12 years clearly prove that a quasi-democratic country can jolt under such circumstances as well.” He confirms the same in a 2017 interview in English, saying that “in Hungary, only elections held every four years are left of democracy, and there is a concentrated attack on independent, civil society organizations”. Miklós Marschall, as the former European Director and then General Deputy Director of Transparency International, who worked for 15 years as Deputy CEO of the Central Secretariat of Transparency International in Berlin, also raises several concerns that fundamentally challenge the issue of independence. On the one hand, we can speak of independence if the delegate has engaged in or engages in neither left-wing nor right-wing politics or its support, and on the other hand, if the delegate has engaged in activities that keep his/her independence away from what we call the international sphere of interest, in our case a decent distance from NGOs. Basically, it is worrisome that the delegates were recommended by Transparency International Hungary, which actually supports left-wing politics, as well as the fact that they have never been far from the current anti-government sphere of interest and have always spoken with one voice. The question rightly arises that if it is still considered independent, then what is no longer qualified as such. Transparency International probably has an answer to this question that is close to the truth.
As usual, civil organizations are only willing to observe the anti-corruption measures adopted by the European Commission and introduced by the Hungarian Government – in this case the establishment of an institution to monitor the use of EU budget resources even more effectively – from a sufficient distance and perspective. The forced, sometimes even unnatural distancing, as well as the debasement of appropriate initiatives are the immanent and inalienable value content of civil organizations promoting left-wing interests and objecting to the Hungarian Government on a daily basis. In fact, the practice of NGOs can be easily mapped, since instead of presenting constructive, supportive, complementary and positive proposals, they produce more and more politically heated one-way content, completely overshadowing their former, purely rights-protecting function. Despite the Hungarian Government’s numerous policy consultations with the European Commission, even though the new laws contain the expectations that, surprisingly, the Hungarian NGOs share in their previous position, despite gaining the anticipated trust of the European Commission, they are still not enough for these NGOs. If a person or organization were to act solely on professional (policy) grounds, independently of other value systems (thinking of the political value system here), it would be justified under professional rules to certify the constructive assessment and recognise the actual results, even if they are a partial achievement for them, rather than creating a revolutionary mood and demonstrating a full-scale destructive, annihilating attitude. If a person or organization participating or intending to participate in public life wishes to represent realistic and timely civic needs and interests, in order to achieve this goal, it is obliged to exclude its own value system that is irrelevant to the issue and to act consistently, only in accordance with the interests of the person represented. If this is not realised, there is bias and proper advocacy will not fulfil the hopes and expectations.
Contrary to the position of NGOs, the priority between the Commission and the Hungarian Government is the issue of even more effective monitoring of the use of EU budget resources, rather than the complete reorganization of the Hungarian system, which has been prosperous for more than a decade, also according to the world. The everyday “professional” and lobbying activities of NGOs active under the guise of objectivity and complete independence are thus aimed at gaining as much public influence as possible in the domestic political arena. If NGOs had continued to achieve the goals for which they were supposed to be established, more citizens who have hitherto been less able to represent and assert themselves because of their exclusion would have access to justice. In contrast, this is not what has happened, but rather, proclaiming themselves heralds of independence as ethos (read: morality, moral behaviour), they pursue anti-government and left-wing policies, thereby stepping out into the arena of political battles. The NGO’s perpetual reference to independence eventually led to the fact that, in their view, this position can be assigned exclusively by them, and anyone who is not with them is immediately called biased, populist, etc. With such a set of values, NGOs delegate persons they deem independent in vain, as we can conclude from the above that the delegates of Transparency International are independent simply because they belong to their circle, that is, they lose their independence token.
Thus, a possible expansion of NGOs would create an opportunity to promote a smoother and greater influence between the “order givers” and the “executors”. The settled practice followed by the NGOs shows that instead of producing ideas that defend rights and promote progress, the transmission of the statement dictated by the left and its circle is taking place, which significantly empties the meaning of the true concept of “civil organizations”. Their abusive exercise of rights and the directive to gain political influence are very dangerous, since the real objective of foreign driving force can only be alien and harmful in domestic terms.
Recently, evidence has been mounting that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) covering a significant part of their activities from foreign sources intend to gain an ever-increasing influence in the domestic political arena, overshadowing their former, purely human rights function. Similar entities in the United States are treated as foreign agent organizations, and their activity is closely monitored and subject to registration. Századvég Foundation is committed to national sovereignty, legal certainty, and transparency. Therefore, in a monitoring system called NGO-radar, it continuously analyses the operation of the relevant organizations in Hungary.