BRUSSELS – The European Commission will launch proceedings to suspend support payments to Hungary for breaching the 27-nation bloc’s rule-of-law standards, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday.
It will be the first time that the new conditionality mechanism allowing the EU to take measures to protect its budget will be used after the European Union’s highest court ruled in February that it had been adopted on sound legal basis.
Von der Leyen's announcement at the European Parliament came two days after Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared victory in Sunday’s election, claiming a mandate for a fourth term.
Hungary, a large recipient of EU funds, 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.
Von der Leyen said her team was not convinced by Hungary's responses to questions relating to the rule of law.
“Our conclusion is we have to move on the next step,” she said, adding that a letter of formal notification will soon be sent to Hungarian authorities.
The rule, seen as the EU’s most potent weapon to prevent a democratic rift from deepening within the bloc, was approved more than a year ago, but the European Commission waited until it received legal reassurances before applying it.