EU to lift sanctions on Hungary

EU to lift sanctions on Hungary

BRUSSELS - Reuters
EU to lift sanctions on Hungary

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban answers journalists’ questions. AFP photo

EU finance ministers will lift financial sanctions on Hungary on June 22, two EU diplomats said, restoring Budapest’s access to half a billion euros of frozen funds and rewarding Prime Minister Viktor Orban for dealing with budget shortfalls.

Finance chiefs in March blocked 495 million euros ($625 million) in EU funds from 2013, to send a message to Budapest and other fiscally profligate nations that consistently high budget deficits were unacceptable in the European Union. But in a sign of better ties between Brussels and Orban’s center-right government in recent months, the European Commission said last month that Hungary had shown genuine progress in bringing down its deficit in a sustainable manner.

EU finance ministers are now set to back that decision in their monthly meeting in Luxembourg on June 22, two EU diplomats said yesterday.

“The blocking of those funds will be lifted, I expect that to happen,” said a senior EU diplomat with knowledge of countries’ positions on the issue ahead of the meeting. “There’s no resistance to this.”

Another diplomat briefed on member states’ positions concurred. “It is guaranteed,” the diplomat said.

The sanctions, used for the first time against an EU country on a budget issue, marked a low point between Brussels and Orban, whose centralizing style prompted Barroso to raise concerns about authoritarianism in Hungary. But relations have warmed in recent weeks as Budapest has also moved on bringing new central bank laws in line with EU norms.