Norway concerned for civil society in Hungary
Posted by African Press International on June 12, 2014
‘I am deeply concerned about the actions of the Hungarian authorities in relation to civil society and their attempts to limit freedom of expression. The EEA and Norway Grants are designed to strengthen fundamental European values. The Hungarian authorities’ violation of the agreement on the EEA and Norway Grants is in breach of these values,’ said Minister of EEA and EU Affairs Vidar Helgesen.
In order to express the Norwegian authorities’ concern about Hungary’s actions in relation to the NGO Fund financed by the EEA and Norway Grant scheme, the Hungarian Ambassador to Norway was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 4 June 2014, and representatives from the Norwegian Embassy in Budapest paid a visit to the Hungarian authorities on 5 June 2014.
Concerns about political interference in the management of the EEA and Norway Grants in Hungary have been reported for some time. The Hungarian authorities have accused the NGO Fund of supporting groups with ties to the opposition, including Transparency International, the Civil Liberties Union and a network for investigative journalists.
The Hungarian authorities have therefore, in breach of agreements entered into with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein on the management of the EEA and Norway Grants, launched an independent audit of the NGO Fund. Hungarian audit authorities visited the Hungarian NGO Fund Operator and two partner organisations on 2 June 2014 and demanded that documents be turned over to them.
‘We have informed the Hungarian authorities that their audit of the NGO Fund does not comply with the agreements that have been entered into,’ said Mr Helgesen.
Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, who are the donor countries, are responsible for the NGO Fund and any audits. This is clearly set out in the agreement with the Hungarian Government. A total of 131 organisations in Hungary have received support from the Fund for measures to strengthen democratic values, minority rights and the situation for vulnerable groups. The donor countries have already made plans for auditing all the programmes financed by the EEA and Norway Grants. According to plan, 13 NGO funds are scheduled to be audited this autumn, including the fund in Hungary. The results of these audits will be made available to the public.
‘If the Hungarian authorities would like to request access to documents related to the administration of the NGO Fund, they are to contact the Financial Mechanism Office in Brussels,’ said Mr Helgesen.
Further disbursement of funds to Hungary under the EEA and Norway Grants scheme was suspended on 8 May 2014. The reason for this was that the Hungarian Government had violated agreements with Norway on the implementation and monitoring of the programmes and funds under the EEA and Norway Grants. A follow-up meeting at senior official level with the Hungarian authorities has been scheduled for 12 June 2014.
‘The Hungarian authorities have unilaterally violated the agreement on the administration and implementation of the Norway and EAA Grants. The actions of the Hungarian Government in this matter are regrettable. We have informed the Hungarian authorities of our concern,’ said Mr Helgesen.
source .mfa, norway