Thursday

3rd Dec 2020

Hungary and Poland unfazed by EU outcry over budget block

  • Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki (l) and Hungary PM Viktor Orban (c) at a previous pre-coronavirus EU summit (Photo: Council of the European Union)

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 - despite calls from other EU capitals to rethink.

Ahead of a videoconference of EU leaders on Thursday evening, Warsaw and Budapest received backing from Slovenia's prime minister.

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Janez Jansa, in a letter to EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel, said that the agreement on the rule-of-law conditionality "undermines" the original deal reached by EU leaders on the matter and the budget-recovery package at an epic summit in July.

"Today, numerous media and some political groups in the European Parliament are openly threatening to use the instrument wrongly called 'rule of law' in order to discipline individual EU member states through a majority vote," Jansa said.

"The 'rule of law' means that disputes are decided by an independent court and not by a political majority in any other institution," he added, saying EU institutions should not be involved in the internal political conflicts of member states.

But while Jansa supported the arguments of his ally, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, Slovenia did not block a key move on Monday at a meeting of EU ambassadors to halt the adoption of the budget and recovery package.

Orban himself in a statement on Wednesday (18 November) said that the rule of law conditionality will be used to "to blackmail countries which oppose migration".

"In Brussels today, they only view countries which let migrants in as those governed by the rule of law. Those who protect their borders cannot qualify as countries where rule of law prevails," he claimed.

"In our view, tying economic and financial questions to political debates would be a grave mistake, one that would undermine Europe's unity. Any new procedure aimed at penalising member states should only be introduced with the unanimous amendment of the treaties," Orban argued.

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that he would ask legislators to vote on a resolution supporting the government's stance on the rule of law. In a speech to parliament he railed against what he said was unequal treatment of some member states, Reuters reported.

'Practical solutions'

While the issue will be be raised at Thursday's meeting, it is unlikely that a solution will be found.

EU diplomats have argued they will wait to see what exactly Hungary and Poland want from their blockade.

"We will wait what Budapest and Warsaw are up to, what they want to do to resolve the situation," said one senior EU source.

"We have to ask them what their real problem is," the source added.

On Tuesday, several countries' EU ministers called on Budapest and Warsaw to remove their blockade to be able to unleash the €1.8 trillion package aimed at mitigating the economic effects of the pandemic.

One possibility to resolve the situation, raised in the Dutch parliament on Tuesday, is to detach the recovery fund from the EU budget and move it forward without Hungary and Poland.

On Wednesday, French state secretary for European affairs Clement Beaune confirmed the EU is studying "practical solutions" to settle the dispute - but added that the countries "will move forward" without Poland and Hungary if there is no way out.

Beaune added that this is a "last resort".

He said France and Germany are looking into "technical clarifications" about the rule of law conditionality, but that the legislation will stay.

The rule of law conditionality, which links the pay out of EU funds to respect for the rule of law has been adopted by 25 member states, and is expected to be voted on next week in the European Parliament.

The party group leaders and the parliament's president, David Sassoli, on Thursday said that the rule of law conditionality and budget - negotiated with the German EU presidency over the last months - "are both a closed deal and can in no way be reopened".

"No further concession will be made on our side," they said.

EU ministers urge Poland and Hungary to unblock budget

"This is no time for power games, we cannot have a political crisis on top of all this, this is the time to show EU unity," Portugal's EU affairs state minister Ana Paula Zacarias told the meeting of EU ministers.

Deal reached on linking EU funds to rule of law

The deal means MEPs and the German EU presidency unblocked a major political hurdle to agreeing on the €1.8 trillion long-term EU budget and coronavirus recovery package.

Agenda

MEPs prepare for another virtual plenary This WEEK

Ahead of the next European summit in mid-December, MEPs will address the EU's long-term budget and rule-of-law conditionality in another virtual plenary session. Discussions will also focus on consumer rights, pharmaceutical strategy and the pandemic.

German minister predicts rule-of-law solution in 'days'

German foreign minister Heiko Maas said the will be "able to take decisions" in the next few days on the budget and coronavirus recovery fund. Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki will travel to Budapest on Thursday.

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