Daniel Freund

23. December 2022 Anti-Corruption

No EU money for autocrats: a Green success story

We did it! There are now 6.3 billion euros of EU money to the Orban government frozen – another 5.8 billion from the Corona Fund are also being withheld. The reason: massive violations of the rule of law in Hungary. For the first time ever, the disbursement of EU funds is linked to compliance with European values. This is a groundbreaking success. And it was a gruelling political struggle that I was able to accompany as a Green member of the European Parliament’s negotiating team – against resistance in the EU Commission, in the EU member states and Viktor Orban’s propaganda machine.

When I started my mandate in the European Parliament three and a half years ago, the undertaking was considered hopeless by many. Someone like Orban was unmanageable. The resistance in the Council of Member States was too great, Orban was too powerful with his veto, and Ursula von der Leyen at the head of the EU Commission was too unwilling to take action to enforce European values.

The first time we felt this was in autumn 2020, when the German government under Angela Merkel held the EU Presidency. And under her leadership, the member states tried to water down the rule of law mechanism more and more. And even when we had found a workable compromise here, Poland and Hungary torpedoed it by vetoing the EU budget and the Corona bailout.

It was clear that Viktor Orban would take any means to continue his autocratic course unhindered. And it was also clear that Ursula von der Leyen would not prioritise this issue. In a statement, she had committed the EU Commission to inaction. The Commission should wait at least one and a half years before using the new tool.

The European Parliament is considered by some to be the weakest EU institution. But in this fight for Europe’s values, it has prevailed. In the past years, we have done one thing above all: put pressure on it. We were always one step ahead of the EU Commission. Our Green expert opinions have shown that Viktor Orban fulfils all the conditions for EU funds to be cut off from him. We have shown that only a freeze of ALL EU funds to Hungary is appropriate. We have made it clear that the sham reforms in Budapest fall well short of the mark. All this before the EU Commission could speak out on the matter. When the silence became too loud, we took the Von der Leyen Commission to the European Court of Justice for inaction in protecting the rule of law.

I have learned a lot in these years: how important it is that a pro-European majority in parliament – from conservatives to leftists – sticks together. Together with the Finnish Christian Democrat Petri Sarvamaa, the Spanish Social Democrat Eider Gardiazábal Rubial and the Liberals Katalin Cseh from Hungary and Moritz Körner from Germany, I have kept up the pressure. How important the expertise of civil society is in these procedures. How central it is that the public knows what is happening in Brussels and what is happening in Hungary.

We have always made a difference when politics has come out of the negotiating room. When it was open and transparent. A big thank you also to all of you! You helped to spread information via email or posts on social media. You have signed petitions. You discussed the issue at events and helped to build the necessary public pressure that made this success possible. I will continue to keep you informed!

I have travelled to Hungary six times in the past three years. I got input from our partners in the Hungarian Greens and in civil society. I have spoken on stage for the united opposition with the prime ministerial candidate in the election campaign. Opposition members, refugees and journalists have told me first-hand what it means when billions disappear and they get hammered for it. And I was threatened and attacked – to the point that in August 2022 I could only move around with police protection because there were public calls for violence against me from Orban’s circle of confidants.

The fact that Viktor Orban is now having EU funds frozen because of his autocratic course is a Green success! Alexandra Geese and Terry Reintke co-negotiated the Conditionality Regulation – Terry as rapporteur for the Home Affairs Committee. Terry has kept the channels to the EU capitals open throughout and has always ensured at the top of the group that the issue had the highest priority. Sergey Lagodinsky organised the majority in the Legal Affairs Committee for us, so that we increased the pressure on Von der Leyen by means of an action for failure to act. Toni Hofreiter (who travelled to Budapest with me) and Chantal Kopf were our strong allies in the Bundestag. Anna Lührmann, our Minister for Europe, fought tirelessly for Europe’s values in the Council and in the end organised an overwhelming majority 25:2.

Thanks to strong Greens in the right places: in the European Parliament, in the Bundestag, in the German government and of course on the ground in Hungary, it is now clear:

Autocrats in the EU will have EU funds frozen. That is our success!

I wish you peaceful holidays and a happy new year.

Daniel Freund

Expert opinion showing Viktor Orban fulfilled all conditions for EU funds to be cut off: https://danielfreund.eu/rule-of-law-study/?lang=en 

Expert opinion showing only a freeze of ALL EU funds to Hungary is appropriate:


Expert opinion showing the sham reforms in Budapest fall well short of the mark:


Autocrats in the EU will have EU funds frozen. That is our success!


The EU can be our best tool in the fight against corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. But it must also be used in the right way. In the future, the EU should fight corruption much more decisively. That is why I have set up an Intergroup against corruption in the European Parliament.