A European parliamentary watchdog has called for tougher scrutiny of EU spending in Hungary, as concern grows among MEPs and transparency campaigners that a class of oligarchs with ties to the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, could use the EU “as a cash register”.
Hungary is on course to receive €25bn (£22.2bn) from the EU in the seven years to 2021, making it one of the largest per-capita recipients of the bloc’s economic development funds.
MEPs are increasingly worried that funds are going to Orbán’s family, friends and supporters, who are winning EU-funded infrastructure contracts with little competition – a red flag for anti-corruption campaigners.
Ingeborg Grässle, a German centre-right MEP who leads the European parliament’s budgetary control committee, said Hungary had “some specific problems which need to be tackled”.
Following a recent visit to Hungary, Grässle and her committee found that 36% of tenders for public projects had only one bidder.
Poland and Croatia had an even higher proportion of single-bids for public money at 45%, which the MEPs considered unusually high, she said. “Rules seem to be respected, but at the same time they … avoid competition,” she said in emailed comments.
Grässle said the problems were not isolated to Hungary, and a new kind of “semi-legal” irregularity was emerging. “We see oligarchs in some member states becoming politicians and benefiting at the same time from EU and national money for their companies,” she said.
She is urging the EU to step up control by using a recently agreed regulation to stop conflicts of interest. Without such action “we accept as legal a grab into the cash register by acting politicians or their friends”, she said.
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