Hungary Seeks to Audit Norwegian Grants as Row Escalates

Hungary’s government wants to audit Norway’s funding of non-government organizations, escalating a row with the Nordic state, which has rejected its efforts to look into its civil-society funding.

Norway suspended payment on 153 million euros ($208 million) in grants to Hungary this month after Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s cabinet shifted monitoring and implementation of some of the funds from the government to a state company. Hungary has no authority for an audit, the administrator of the grants said on its website, prompting an angry response from the country’s government.

“It’s unparalleled in Europe that a foreign power openly advocates breaking the law of another country,” Nandor Csepreghy, an official at the Development Ministry in Budapest, said in an e-mailed statement today. “The bigger the opposition to the audit, the more committed the government will be to carry it out.”

Orban, who retained his two-thirds parliamentary majority in April elections, has clashed with the European Union, the U.S. and the United Nations, who accuse him of eroding checks and balances after he pushed through a new constitution. The EU is also separately reviewing Hungary’s distribution of funds distributed by the 28-nation bloc, which finance 95 percent of development projects in the country.

Orban’s government accuses a local organization, Okotars, of distributing some of the Norwegian funds to groups that support LMP, a pro-environmental opposition party. The group and the central administrator of the Norwegian grants reject the charge.

Norway pledged the bulk of the grants for programs ranging from green-industry innovation to helping at-risk youth. Hungary’s government has no authority to review the program according to how they are set up and because Budapest doesn’t contribute to the funds, the administrator of the Norwegian and EEA grants, to which Liechtenstein and Iceland are also contributors, said in a statement on its website.

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