BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A spokesperson for the European Union's executive arm said Friday that Hungary was discriminating against citizens of other EU countries by offering discounted fuel to drivers of vehicles with Hungarian license plates while drivers of foreign-registered vehicles must pay market prices.
At a press briefing in Brussels, spokesperson Sonya Gospodinova said the European Commission had received complaints from EU citizens who had “experienced firsthand discriminatory fuel prices" when they filled up at Hungarian service stations.
Gospodinova suggested Hungary's policy could violate regulatory frameworks of the EU's common market.
“This is not a moment to act unilaterally at (the) national level and to introduce discriminatory measures and treatment of EU citizens,” she said.
The Hungarian government announced in May that only vehicles with Hungarian registration would be able to purchase gasoline and diesel at the discounted price of 480 forints ($1.30) per liter, the maximum allowed under a price cap the government set in November 2021.
Drivers of foreign-registered vehicles are required to pay market prices for fuel, which may be 60% higher than what it costs at the pump for vehicles with Hungarian plates.
Hungary's government says the price cap was designed to protect consumers from rising energy costs caused by high inflation and the ongoing war in neighboring Ukraine. It said that limiting discounted fuel to Hungarian vehicles was necessary to prevent fuel tourism and shortages.
EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton sent a letter to Hungarian authorities this week asking them to suspend the policy until it could be assessed for its compliance with the 27-nation bloc's regulations.
Hungary's nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, said in a Friday radio interview that EU rules against discrimination based on nationality were suitable for peacetime but “an extraordinary situation requires extraordinary measures”.
“And in such a case, it is also allowed, and I think it is even obligatory, to deviate from the general rules,” Orban said.
Commission spokesperson Gospodinova said Hungary could not use the war in Ukraine to "serve as a justification to discriminate between citizens of the European Union, also indirectly based on their nationality.”
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Justin Spike, The Associated Press