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“Whatever is lost now will never come back” – TI Hungary’s conference on the use of EU funds

“Whatever is lost now will never come back” – TI Hungary’s conference on the use of EU funds

Transparency International Hungary organized a high-profile conference on the use of EU funds and the possibilities of civic control mechanisms. The event was opened by TI Hungary’s Jozsef Peter Martin, who set the tone of the discussion by reiterating the importance of EU funding to Hungary’s economy. He stated clearly that 4 % of Hungary’s GDP is formed from EU funds placing it amongst the highest net-beneficiaries of the EU member states. This was supported later on during the panel discussion by László Kállay, head of institute, Center for Small-Enterprise Development, Corvinus University of Budapest; who gave the comparison ‘Since Hungary has been a member of the EU, compared to its GDP, the country gets more money than Germany received during the entirety of the Marshall Plan’.

Whilst this has been hugely beneficial for the Hungarian economy the warnings were clear that the misuse of these funds, both through overbudgeting and poor competition within public procurement risks losing a valuable resource. As Anton Schrag, deputy head of unit, DG REGIO, European Commission EU, highlighted this is a source of income which is finite and time-constrained: ’Money becomes less and less over time, as we assume development has taken place. Whatever is lost now will never come back. It is a decreasing opportunity’. In other words, EU funds lost through corruption or technical oversight will not be replaced by a never-ending supply in the near future.

Keynote speaker Ville Itälä, director-general, European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), highlighted the ever-growing importance of cooperation both on a national, international, and even individual level to help fight an ever-evolving and complex network of digitally savvy, cross-border corruption. On a national level, he emphasised the need for greater clarity on the level of cooperation required from national governments on corruption investigations with regards to personal bank accounts. This was a message echoed by Gábor Zupkó, head of Representation European Commission Representation in Hungary. He added that ‘the EU and its institutions are committed to fighting corruption but cannot do it alone. Society as it where, has to cooperate, to prevent corruption’. The EU may be leading the world in anti-corruption efforts but, as Mr Zupko stated, the recent CPI reports show there is ‘still work to be done.

The need for complete, community-wide cooperation, was also a theme throughout the conference. Gabriella Nagy of TI Hungary, in her presentation on Integrity Pacts, highlighted how they have not only encouraged greater public trust in procurement procedures and the tender process but have encouraged an active involvement in fighting corruption on an individual level. The Integrity Pacts, launched in Hungary by TI as part of an EU Commission’s pilot project, have seen further beneficial results, namely increased competition between contractors, leading to a significant lowering of overall costs in addition to improved transparency and trust in the procedures. There have been some issues however with incidents reported regarding cartel involvement with the M6 motorway project, lacking follow up from the Hungarian Competition Authority. To the defence of the Hungarian government Florián Szalóki, deputy State Secretary, highlighted that there were existing mechanisms for reporting corruption and unfair behaviour, but that their underuse was down to the individual not the government, something he encouraged the NGO sphere to further investigate. Anton Schrag, whilst not defending the Hungarian government, also made a statement along these lines, suggesting that new legislation was required to improve civil control mechanism’s in Hungary, rather simply changing application of basic regulations would be enough. This would improve transparency and allow individuals access to records relating to public procurement and EU funds so ‘citizens don’t have to listen to rumours but can read the facts themselves’.

The final point of needing society-wide cooperation in fighting corruption was made by Balázs Dencső, director-general of EUTAF: ‘I am not certain the citizens are aware to what extent EU funds contribute to their everyday lives. The sooner they are aware of this the more they will prioritise preventing the misuse of these funds.’

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