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The European Parliament has taken legal action against the European Commission for releasing €10.2 billion in frozen funds to Hungary, despite concerns about the country’s rule of law deficiencies. The decision to file the lawsuit was approved by the Parliament’s president, Roberta Metsola, and the deadline for submission is 25 March. The move puts pressure on Ursula von der Leyen as she seeks a second term as the head of the Commission, highlighting the sensitive issue of the rule of law that has been a key focus of her tenure. The decision to release the funds to Hungary was based on the country passing a reform to strengthen judicial independence, but lawmakers and civil society have raised doubts about the adequacy of the overhaul.

Critics of the Commission’s decision argue that Hungary does not meet the standard of judicial independence set out in the EU treaties and that the measures adopted are insufficient to prevent political interference in the courts. Lawmakers have accused the Commission of rushing the validation of Hungary’s judicial reform and engaging in backroom deals with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to secure the release of the funds. The European Parliament passed a resolution in January warning against giving in to blackmail and compromising EU values in exchange for financial agreements, highlighting the importance of upholding EU principles and standards.

The Commission maintains that it was legally obligated to partially release the funds to Hungary based on the evidence provided by the country regarding the independence of its judiciary. The executive defends its decision as being in compliance with EU law and intends to defend its position before the EU court. However, nearly €12 billion of Hungary’s allocated cohesion funds and most of its recovery and resilience plan remains withheld by Brussels due to concerns about legislative changes in areas such as LGBTQ+ rights, asylum policy, public procurement, and anti-corruption.

The European Parliament’s decision to file a lawsuit against the Commission is part of its efforts to hold the executive accountable for upholding EU values and standards. This is not the first time the Parliament has taken legal action against the Commission, as it previously filed a lawsuit in October 2021 over the failure to apply a mechanism linking EU funds to respect for fundamental rights. The lawsuit against the release of funds to Hungary reflects a deeper concern among lawmakers about the rule of law in EU member states and the need to ensure that taxpayer money is spent in accordance with EU treaties.

The dispute between the European Parliament and the Commission underscores the challenges of balancing financial interests with democratic values within the EU. The lawsuit against the release of funds to Hungary highlights the importance of upholding the rule of law and ensuring that member states comply with EU standards. As the legal battle unfolds, it will be crucial to see how the European Court of Justice rules on the matter and what implications it may have for future decisions regarding the allocation of EU funds and the enforcement of EU values.

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