Saturday

15th Aug 2020

Orban raises summit stakes with 'blackmail' conditions

Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban secured a parliamentary mandate in Budapest on Tuesday (14 July) to pressure the EU to end a rule-of-law probe and block linking European funds to a rule-of-law condition.

Orban's ruling Fidesz party, which dominates the Hungarian national assembly, adopted a resolution that calls on ending the so-called Article 7 sanctions probe as a condition to agreeing to the EU's long-term budget and planned recovery fund tackling the economic crisis prompted by the pandemic.

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It raises the stakes ahead of EU leaders' meeting on Friday and Saturday (17-18 July) to hammer out the proposed €750bn recovery package plus the over trillion euro next EU budget.

The agreement requires unanimity, giving Orban - and all other leaders - a veto.

In an effort to drive up the price for Hungary's assent to the fund, various aspects of which are opposed by other member states, Orban also appears to be attempting to head off a reduction of traditional funds earmarked for Hungary.

The Budapest resolution states that richer member states should not receive more support then citizens of poor countries, in an effort to protect cohesion funds directed towards Hungary.

But Orban's new mandate also sends a message against Brussels intensifying scrutiny over his increasing power-grab in Hungary, and towards reigning in civil organisations.

The resolution says "political parties and political organisations disguised as civilians should not be eligible for EU funding".

It also adds that "linking resources to political and ideological conditions, under the heading 'rule of law', is unacceptable", and so ruling out the rule of law conditionality.

Orban does not actually require parliament's support to agree to a deal, but wanted a show of unity and strength. His tactic has previously involved raising the stakes and then getting more out of the compromise.

However several EU countries, especially bigger contributors to the budget such as the Netherlands, are insisting on a rule of law conditionality.

In his compromise proposal, European Council president Charles Michel has already moved towards those opposing the rule of law conditionality - by requiring a majority of member states to support suspension of EU funds, in the case of rule of law problems, instead of a more automatic procedure.

Green MEP Daniel Freund has called Hungary's position "blackmail".

"Orban is taking the entire corona response hostage to not only kill new instruments for the rule of law but also to get rid of everything else he does not like: Article 7, critical NGOs…," he tweeted when the draft Hungarian resolution was published last week.

The Article 7 sanctions procedure against Hungary was triggered by the European Parliament in 2018 for breaching EU rules and values on media freedom, migration and rule of law.

It has, however, been lagging in the council of member states, as countries are reluctant to sanction each other. A similar fate applies to a similar procedure against Poland.

But EU leaders have never officially discussed the topic.

"This is not an issue for the European Council," a senior EU diplomat said, when asked if leaders will debate Hungary's condition on ending the Article 7 procedure.

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