Holding Europe Hostage: Hungary and Poland Block EU Budget over Rule-of-Law Issue

Written by | Monday, November 23rd, 2020

Ahead of a virtual summit of EU leaders on Thursday evening (19 November), Hungary and Poland have dug their heels in on blocking the €1.8 trillion EU budget and coronavirus recovery package, over their objection to linking EU funds to the respect of the rule of law. During the videoconference, EU leaders will debate the coronavirus pandemic and the attempts of both post-communist states of Central Europe to blackmail the EU over a rule-of-law clause that does not suit them. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had repeatedly called the EU’s proposed rule of law mechanism a “political and ideological weapon”, claiming it was designed to “blackmail” and punish countries that reject immigration. “Once this proposal gets adopted, there will be no more obstacles to tying member states’ share of common funds to supporting migration and us(ing) financial means to blackmail countries which oppose migration,” he said. Orbán and other Hungarian officials have consistently sought to portray attempts in Brussels to rein in Hungary’s democratic backsliding as rooted solely in pressuring the country to accept immigrants.
But EU concerns that Hungary is undermining the rule of law have focused on a wide range of issues, including judicial independence, corruption, the rights of minorities, freedom of expression, and the situation of migrants and refugees in Hungary. Critics accuse the governing parties in Hungary and Poland of undermining and challenging democratic principles, which both countries deny. As if it weren’t already enough that Hungary and Poland are blackmailing the EU, now Slovenia has entered the fray, with the country’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa, a close ally of Orbán, giving his support to Hungary and Poland. In a letter to top EU officials Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, Jansa said even though Slovenia supports respecting the rule of law in all cases, “discretionary mechanisms that are not based on independent judgement but on politically motivated criteria cannot be called ‘the rule of law’.” EU diplomats have speculated that Jansa has expressed an opinion but not quite announced that he wants to withhold Slovenia’s approval of the EU budget and the recovery package.
Meanwhile, Poland’s prime minister hit out at what he called the European „oligarchy“ trying to punish the weakest states of the bloc and this was not the EU that Poland had originally joined. As the deadlock deepened over linking EU cash with respect for rule of law, Mateusz Morawiecki also said that “we say ‘yes’ to the European Union, but ‘no’ to being punished like children. ‘No’ to mechanisms which mean that Poland and other countries are treated unfairly.“ Warning that the laying down of conditions such as rule of law could lead to the EU’s demise, Morawiecki sought to caution that “it is a question of sovereignty.” Warsaw and Budapest have frequently been embroiled in clashes with Brussels over such areas in recent years. Their latest move has plunged the bloc into a new crisis and leaders are hoping to find a way out of the impasse when they hold a virtual EU summit on Thursday (19 November). This is where the German presidency of the European Council steps in. German Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth warned earlier this week that now was not “the time for vetoes but for acting swiftly and in the spirit of solidarity.” However, ahead of the summit, it remains difficult to predict if EU leaders will find common ground.

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