Friday

5th Mar 2021

Opinion

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

  • 'Make no mistake: there is no technical solution to a fundamental political problem—whether or not countries should abide by the laws and treaties they signed up to when they joined the EU' (Photo: Council of the European Union)

By vetoing the EU's recovery financing, Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński are putting at risk the lives of all Europeans threatened by a needlessly prolongued Covid-19 crisis, as well as the livelihood of everyone whose job or business is harmed as a result, only because they want the EU to continue to fund their increasingly corrupt power grab.

We must not let them.

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While the instruments to tackle a government falling off the democratic wagon, the Article 7 procedure, has so far proved unworkable because fellow governments lacked the nerve to apply it, this time, they have an incentive not to shy away from their duty.

About €1.85 trillion-worth of incentives, in fact. They are incensed, and they are right.

And yet, 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 that would de facto allow them to veto any case against corruption or breaches of the rule of law in their countries.

If we want the EU to lose all credibility and, in a short while, have one or two well-funded downright autocratic regimes within its borders, that is the way to go.

Luckily, the EU Treaties provide other options. We need to call their bluff and we need to do it now.

Financing the recovery through enhanced cooperation of the 25 other member states is the way to do it.

In case of stalemate, European law (Art 326 TFEU) foresees the possibility for nine or more countries to go ahead by enhanced cooperation, within the framework and the spirit of the EU as a whole.

The euro is the best example: it is in principle the currency of all member states (apart from Denmark, which negotiated an opt out), but in practice went ahead with only the countries that apply the conditions.

This means we could finance the recovery fund by contributions and new own resources from 25 member countries, limited to the projects introduced by the governments of the 25 countries that apply the criteria, including a solid rule of law mechanism.

Like the euro, it would be open for Hungary and Poland to join once they fully accept and fulfil the conditions.

Like the euro, it would be run by the EU Commission in the interest of the EU as a whole.

And as foreseen in the agreement reached between the European Parliament and the German presidency, a proper mechanism would allow the commission to directly support citizens, businesses and NGOs in the non-participating member states.

Enhanced cooperation is the only way forward for the 25 heads of state, if Hungary and Poland continue to hold hostage their colleagues and blatantly act against the common interest.

It is legal, it is logical, and it is urgent.

Make no mistake: there is no technical solution to a fundamental political problem—whether or not countries should abide by the laws and treaties they signed up to when they joined the EU.

There is no compromise on fundamental rights and values—unless we allow the workings and the foundations of the European Union to be compromised.

Author bio

Guy Verhofstadt is Renew Europe MEP and former prime minister of Belgium.

Disclaimer

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

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