The European Commission has proposed suspending the majority of Hungary’s EU funding over its government’s questionable approach to the rule of law.
EU budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn said on Sunday that the central European country should be stripped of €7.5 billion (£6.5 billion).
The announcement would be the bloc’s clearest action yet against Viktor Orban’s far-right government’s, which has been accused of corruption and undermining democratic norms.
“Today’s decision is a clear demonstration of the Commission’s resolve to protect the EU budget, and to use all tools at our disposal to ensure this important objective,” Mr Hahn said.
The decision by the Commission would have to be be approved by a majority of EU member states – which EU diplomats believe is a realistic hurdle.
The move by Brussels represents the first use of a new mechanism introduced two years ago to tie EU budget disbursements to basic democratic standards.
Some EU member states had complained that Hungary was taking billions of euros in EU funding while its government flouted the bloc’s values.
In July the Commission report on the member state said Mr Orban’s government presided over “an environment where risks of clientelism, favoritism and nepotism in high-level public administration remain unaddressed”.
Hungary has until November 19 to address the EU’s concerns before the budget rule of law procedure moves to the next phase.
On Thursday, members of the European Parliament again voted to condemn Hungary’s slide into authoritarianism.
In September 2018 the parliament voted by a two-thirds majority, 448-197, to start Article 7 rule of law proceedings against Hungary.
The UK’s Conservative party was the only governing Conservative party in Western Europe not to back the measure, lining up with the far right and arguing the the motion was “politicised”.
Mr Orban’s government has been accused of violating press freedoms, undermining judicial independence, and waging an antisemitic campaign against leading Jewish businessman George Soros.