Hungary and Poland strongly oppose the rule of law mechanism and have threatened to veto the EU’s next €1.85 trillion long-term budget and Coronavirus recovery fund unless the clause is scrapped.
Any further delay will hold up much-needed funds being rolled out to Member States to help them tackle the health crisis.
EU leaders meet in Brussels on Thursday and Friday in a bid to resolve the dispute which threatens to block the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework and recovery fund.
Hopes have been raised that the impasse might soon end after Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that agreement on linking EU funds to the respect for the rule of law is “centimetres” away.
He said, “The German presidency is currently working to find a solution. As far as I know, there’s hope. We’re really close to reach an agreement that will be a victory and will be a good result for Poland and Hungary and for the whole EU.”
Orbán was speaking after talks on this issue in Warsaw on Tuesday with his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki.
“If EU leaders succumb now, then this will only boost Orbán and Morawiecki’s position against the rule of law” Piotr Cykowski, spokesperson for Akcja Demokracja
Ahead of Thursday’s crunch EU summit, aHang in Hungary and Akcja Demokracja in Poland, both citizen’s rights movements, say they have collected over 300,000 messages to MEPs supporting the rule of law conditionality.
Máté Varga, spokesperson for aHang said, “The vast majority of Hungarian citizens support EU membership, as well as the rule of law, the fight against corruption and European democratic achievements.”
“The message to the European Council from the people of Hungary and Poland today is - don’t give in. Europe unites us, don't let Orbán and Morawieski divide us.”
Piotr Cykowski, spokesperson for Akcja Demokracja, added, “It's been unconditional EU funding that kept Orbán and Morawiecki alive and now it’s time the EU comes out in support for the Polish and Hungarian citizens who have been fighting so hard.”
“If EU leaders succumb now, then this will only boost Orbán and Morawiecki’s position against the rule of law.”
According to recent polls, people in Hungary and Poland overwhelmingly support the rule of the law conditionality, with over 72 percent of participants in Poland and 74 percent of respondents in Hungary agreeing with linking the disbursement of EU funds to rule of law and democratic principles.
“The vast majority of Hungarian citizens support EU membership, as well as the rule of law, the fight against corruption and European democratic achievements” Máté Varga, spokesperson for aHang
These figures are close to the percent of people supporting the same in the Netherlands (71 percent), Belgium (70 percent) and Sweden (72 percent).
A separate poll by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) said support of the rule of law, democracy and human rights is widely viewed as a fundamental benefit of EU membership. It is also the highest scoring response on this issue across the surveyed countries.
Meanwhile, Council President Charles Michel says he is still “optimistic” that agreement on the huge fiscal package, the MMF, and the Coronavirus recovery plan can be reached at this week’s two-day summit.
Speaking at a news conference, Michel also stressed that the EU will not delete the rule of law mechanism from the plan.
He told reporters that EU leaders had agreed in July to introduce the clause and there would be “no backtracking.”
He said, “We made our MMF marriage vows in July and fundamental rights are part of the EU’s DNA.”
“Some do fear that this mechanism could be used in an arbitrary way, but we must now implement what we agreed on the rule of law mechanism in the summer.”
The former Belgian Prime Minister added, “I still hope we can resolve this problem in the next few days. I remain optimistic.”
Elsewhere, business associations from five Member States, in a letter to Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the Commission, say, “Europe urgently needs a growth enhancing recovery plan. Its key instruments, the MFF and the recovery package, are more important than ever and must become operational with no further delays.”
“We are fully aware about the undergoing negotiating efforts. At the same time, we are deeply worried that stalls have not been overcome yet. Time is running out and the risk to enter in the system of provisional twelfths appears very high.”
On Wednesday, the mayors of Polish cities including Warsaw are planning to turn lights in public buildings blue in support of the EU (whose flag is blue).
Speaking on Wednesday, Greens co-leader Philippe Lamberts told reporters, “The rule of law mechanism is a red line for us and I do not welcome Angel Merkel’s willingness to compromise on this.”