Friday

4th Dec 2020

Opinion

Three EU exits from Poland and Hungary 'hostage crisis'

  • With a virtual meeting of the EU head of states and governments due on Thursday, the European Union is in crisis mode over Hungary and Poland's 'veto' (Photo: Council of the European Union)

On Monday afternoon (16 November) representatives of the Polish and Hungarian governments withheld their consent from the EU's historic €1.8bn multi-annual financial framework (MFF, the EU budget) and coronavirus recovery deal.

The move itself is not a veto in technical sense, as it took place at the level of the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper II), and Coreper's decisions are not binding for the EU Council where member states are represented at ministerial level.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

However, it is widely-perceived as a full-blown veto in a political sense, with EU member states and institutions already mobilised to seek potential pathways out of the deadlock that may seriously delay both the urgently-needed corona recovery package and the next long-term budget.

Poland and Hungary submitted their veto after Coreper approved the rule-of-law conditionality mechanism that will tie the disbursement of EU funds to the quality of rule of law, allowing the suspension of funds if the principle of rule of law is breached in a member state.

However, while the rule of law mechanism could be passed with qualified majority, the MFF and the so-called 'own resources' decision required for the corona recovery package require a consent of the member states.

Extortion?

Poland's and Hungary's main goal is most likely to extort further concessions from the Council that may render the rule of law conditionality mechanism merely symbolic or even non-existent.

In spite of the Monday confirmation in Coreper, negotiations on the draft regulation can be any time reopened in the council in case of political necessity, or if the German council presidency so decides.

With a council meeting scheduled for Tuesday and a virtual meeting of the EU head of states and governments due on Thursday, the European Union is in crisis mode.

However, EU institutions and member states have hardly more than two fully-fledged and one half-baked strategic option to solve this institutional crisis - that may have more far reaching consequences for the EU than Brexit.

First, in a defeatist scenario, member states can revert to the rule-of-law conditionality deal and further soften the regulation to please Warsaw and Budapest.

That move will definitely inflame the conflict with the European Parliament.

However, whether the parliament would be ready to keep its word and also block the whole budget deal to prevent a watering down of rule of law protection, is at least questionable - especially in light of the increasingly-visible rebellion of southern MEPs whose countries desperately need fast access to the corona funds.

Bending to Poland and Hungary would be a huge loss of face for the whole EU establishment and would prove that the EU's autocratising member states were successful in taking the Union as hostage.

Furthermore, it would encourage rogue member states to use veto threats whenever they can in order to blackmail the community.

Second, with a bold move the council and the European parliament could officially approve the rule of law conditionality regulation as soon as possible.

If the regulation anyhow comes into force and it will be an inescapable part of any future budgets, the Hungarian and Polish veto simply loses its reason d'etre.

Blocking the budget deal for an unforeseeable time, and thus their own access to the corona recovery fund, will not make sense anymore.

Poland and Hungary might file an action for annulment lawsuit to the European Court of Justice, and the German presidency and member states should also encourage Budapest and Warsaw to take legal steps instead of maintaining a political blockade.

That would allow Viktor Orbán and Mateusz Morawiecki to save their faces and withdraw while most likely the ECJ is going to rule that the regulation does not infringe on member states' treaty rights.

Third, the Next Generation EU corona fund could be theoretically established outside of the EU treaties, in form of an intergovernmental deal, without the consent of Poland and Hungary, and probably also excluding them.

However, that would not solve the problem of the MFF and would deal a serious blow to the integrity of the EU.

In this case, the EU's whole budget structure would be built on loopholes, with the old MFF remaining in force in the lack of a new long-term budget.

While this is not necessarily the way how EU institutions prefer to operate, the option can pose a useful threat posture to push Poland and Hungary to accept the previous point.

Long-brewing cause

With an eye on the solutions, it is also important not to deceive ourselves about the causes. The EU's recent institutional crisis was not induced by the commission's rule of law conditionality proposal.

The crisis is the undeniable, logical consequence of 10 years of EU politics that underplayed and failed to properly address the threat posed by autocratising member states and always gave priority to challenges other than the protection of democracy and rule of law in the European Union.

If EU institutions and member states bend in the current situation, extortion by vetos and institutional crises will be the earmarks of the EU's new political reality.

Author bio

Daniel Hegedüs is fellow for central Europe at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Budget deal struck, with Hungary threat still hanging

Ultimately, the European Parliament managed to squeeze an extra €16bn in total - which will be financed with competition fines the EU Commission hands out over the next seven years, plus reallocations within the budget.

We need to call Orbán's bluff by going ahead without him

You hear voices already calling for the European Council to give in to the Hungarian and Polish demands, by coming up with supposedly 'technical' solutions allowing them to veto any corruption case or breaches of the rule of law .

News in Brief

  1. Greek island to get new EU-backed migration camp
  2. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing dies from Covid-19 complications
  3. Belgium denied residency permits to 15,000 EU nationals
  4. Centre-right EU lawmakers want to kick out Fidesz MEP
  5. Slovak journalist's killer gets longer sentence
  6. Egyptian leader embarks on 'execution spree'
  7. Covid-19: UK first to approve Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
  8. Car kills five people in German town's pedestrian zone

The human cost of whistleblowing

The fate of Jonathan Taylor, a British whistleblower stuck in legal limbo in Croatia, is a test of European laws designed to protect those who put themselves at risk for the common good.

EU vs US tech agenda under Biden

What will the new Joe Biden administration bring to the realm of digital policy, and how will it affect the relationship with the EU?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  3. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  5. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja

Latest News

  1. EU keen to repair damage of Trump years
  2. Szájer 'sex party' coverage shows Orbán's media control
  3. EU Commission mulls ways round Hungary-Poland block
  4. Revealed: Hit to EU mental health services during Covid-19
  5. MEPs seek parliament inquiry into Frontex
  6. Erdoğan to face human rights scrutiny next week, EU says
  7. 2020 Prague European Summit: 'Real solutions, acting together'
  8. Nationwide protests reveal awakening of Poland's youth

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us