Katalin Halmai (Brussels);
European Union; Hungary; Norwegian Fund;
Hungary is once again blocking the adoption of a joint statement at the meeting between the EU and the Nordic countries.
Hungary is once again preventing the ministers of the countries belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA) from issuing a joint statement about their meeting in Brussels today, Népszava has learned from several independent sources. This will be the fourth time that the EEA Council, which includes the 27 member states of the European Union as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, fails to approve a final statement from the official meeting due to the opposition of the Hungarian government.
Sweden, which holds the consecutive presidency of the EU, gave up trying to get a joint statement adopted by the EU27 before the May 24 council meeting. “After extensive informal consultations and a thorough investigation, the presidency came to the conclusion that it is not possible to create a consensus on a viable text proposal that could be forwarded to the three EEA countries,” an EU source who requested anonymity told our newspaper. According to another EU official, the Swedes tried everything to forge an agreement, but
High-level representatives of the countries of the European Economic Area meet twice a year in the Belgian capital to review their relations and decide on the essential issues of their cooperation. At the meetings, the EU member states are represented by the presidency, and the competent member of the European Commission is also present. At the end of the meetings, a joint statement is usually adopted, which requires a unanimous decision. The declaration has more political, less practical significance.
Hungary first put an obstacle in the way of the agreement in the fall of 2021. In the almost 30-year history of the EEA, this was the first time that an agreement on the text could not be reached. Due to Budapest’s reservations, since then all ministerial meetings have ended without an agreed statement from the thirty countries.
We contacted the Permanent Representation of Hungary in Brussels to find out the reason for the current blocking, but we did not receive an answer. However, several of our sources in Brussels confirmed that the Hungarian-Norwegian bilateral dispute is also in the background this time.
Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway support EU countries that need to catch up through two financial funds – the EEA and the Norwegian Fund – in return for access to the community’s single market. One of the beneficiaries is Hungary, which would have received HUF 77 billion (EUR 214.7 million at the exchange rate at the time) from the two instruments in the seven-year budget period ending in 2020. Due to the conflict that erupted between Budapest and Oslo, not a single euro cent was received in the end. The dispute goes back to 2014, when the Hungarian government wanted to bring under its control the distribution of the Norwegian Fund’s resources to civil organizations – about HUF 4 billion. Norway therefore suspended all support from the two funds. Since the negotiations failed to find a fund manager that would have suited both parties, Hungary preferred to let the entire 77 billion for seven years go to waste.
After the failure, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán asked his ministers to find the necessary steps to “breach obligations” in Oslo. One such first step was the government’s November 2021 veto at the Brussels meeting of the EEA countries.
In June of last year, negotiations began on the agreement that sets out how much financial contribution the three countries will provide to member states that are below the EU’s average level of development between 2021 and 2027. According to several of our sources, the discussions are progressing at a slow pace, as the parties are currently debating the access of Icelandic and Norwegian fishing products to the European market. At the beginning of May, Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt made it clear in the Oslo parliament that her country intends to give special support to non-governmental organizations in the new budget cycle as well. “This support is particularly important at a time when independent organizations are under pressure in many countries,” he explained.
Source: Népszava by nepszava.hu.
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