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Loonela: Release of Hungary's money shows system is working

Vivian Loonela.
Vivian Loonela. Source: Patrik Tamm / ERR

Vivian Loonela, head of the European Commission's Representation in Estonia, told ERR that the European Commission does not intend to simply comply with Hungary and release the frozen aid funds for the country. Instead, Hungary has amended its legal system according to the directives of the European Commission, demonstrating the system's effectiveness.

Loonela said that an important summit is coming up, where the European Commission has done everything on its part to adopt a decision to start accession talks with Ukraine.

"Ukraine funding – on one hand, for purchasing weapons, a peace fund for member states, from which we have already supported sending more weapons to Ukraine with nearly €6 billion from European funds. We want to increase this by another €5 billion. Secondly, the budget support to Ukraine, so they can maintain their country despite the hard times of war. The Commission has proposed creating a Ukraine fund, which would ensure they have €50 billion over the next four years. In all this, we are waiting for the approval of the Member States," Loonela said.

Hungary wants to sink the proposals. When asked if the credibility of the European Union is at stake, Loonela replied that this has been the case during all the recent crises, from which Europe has emerged stronger.

Understanding what Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban actually wants is the objective, Loonela admitted. "It does not seem to be so straightforward. European Council President Charles Michel visited Budapest, Orban had dinner with French President Macron – what exactly does he want, I cannot see into his head," she said.

It has been suggested that the European Commission might accommodate Hungary and release the €10 billion in aid funds frozen due to their own rule-of-law breaches. "This actually shows that our system works. I know it sounds strange. What is the issue with Hungary's cohesion funds? For the first time in EU history, a rule-of-law conditionality procedure was added to the framework, meaning that if Member States see and the Commission assesses that there are rule-of-law issues in a member state, then they cannot access those designated funds. In the case of Hungary, we are talking about €21 billion from the cohesion fund," Loonela explained.

"These directives that the Commission issued regarding the rule-of-law mechanism were about how judges were appointed – this system has been changed –, how court cases were distributed among judges – today, the Hungarian parliament adopted a decision to now use a blind distribution system like in Estonia. This shows that if we are consistent, then indeed, the flaws pointed out in the legal system have been corrected," Loonela stated.

Treaty amendment is not a precondition for EU expansion

Orban has promised to veto the start of accession talks with Ukraine. According to Loonela, finding a solution to this remains in the hands of state leaders in their discussions.

Loonela stated that the European Union has strengthened with expansion, and the war in Ukraine has made it clear that the EU cannot have any grey areas on its periphery. "They are either with us or taken over by Russia or China. There are no two ways about it."

That Member States have different opinions on where the European Union should expand or what the conditions are is natural, according to Loonela.

Legally, changing treaties is not a precondition for expansion, Loonela said.

Russia continues to successfully import high-tech goods under sanctions. According to Loonela, the sanction policy is actually working. "Look at what is sanctioned – do you see Russian planes flying, trains running, Russian trucks driving? But of course, it could work better. How does the European Union's sanction policy work – we decide them unanimously, but then each Member State is responsible for how their authorities ensure the sanctions are enforced."

Loonela acknowledged that transit through third countries is a concern, and the European Union has communicated with transit countries, resulting in reduced trade. China, however, is a separate case, although EU leaders have also emphasized to China the need to limit certain groups' supplies to Russia.

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Editor: Barbara Oja, Marcus Turovski

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