Hungary and Poland refuse to back EU long-term budget and recovery package

The move has plunged the bloc into a new crisis and leaders are hoping to find a way out of the impasse when they hold a virtual EU summit on Thursday.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

17 Nov 2020

On Monday, representatives of the governments of Hungary and Poland blocked a decision on “own resources”, which halts agreement on both the multi-billion-euro Coronavirus recovery package and the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

As they had threatened to do, Hungary and Poland blocked the ratification of the €1.8bn package proposed by the European Commission when EU permanent ambassadors met. The Polish and Hungarian representatives withheld their consent to open a written procedure on new own resources for the EU.

Greens MEPs branded the move as “unprecedented and unacceptable”, saying it “puts thousands of lives at risk by preventing EU funding to swiftly support recovery efforts.”

The issue will be discussed by EU affairs ministers on Tuesday and at the video call later this week when prime ministers of the EU focus on the bloc’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The cause of the Hungarian and Polish objections is a new rule-of-law conditionality in the MFF which links future EU funding to respect for the rule of law in each Member State.

Speaking on Monday, EPP leader Manfred Weber said, “If you respect the rule of law there is nothing to fear.”

“While Fidesz is blocking the EU budget and the reconstruction package due to the rule of law mechanism, it is worth recalling what is included in Viktor Orbán’s European programme, which is still in force today” István Ujhelyi, S&D

In his regular public radio interviews, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that if the proposed rule-of-law link to the EU budget were to be adopted, “we will turn the European Union into a Soviet Union”, claiming that the draft legislation “seeks to blackmail countries on an ideological basis.”

Hungary and Poland are both facing so-called Article 7 proceedings over the reported erosion of democratic values and have frequently threatened to veto the EU budget, which has to be agreed upon by all EU Member States.

Hungarian Socialist deputy István Ujhelyi said, “While Fidesz is blocking the EU budget and the reconstruction package due to the rule of law mechanism, it is worth recalling what is included in Viktor Orbán’s European programme, which is still in force today.”

“It reads: ‘One of the EU’s current weaknesses is that it has difficulty enforcing its own values and principles. A country, while it aspires to become a member of the Union, must meet a serious set of conditions in terms of rule of law, democracy and respect for human and minority rights. Fidesz is convinced that the implementation of our common values and principles cannot be subject to consideration. Therefore, the EU must be given the instruments to oblige members to continually represent its values and adhere to its principles. Without this, there is no strong Europe. It is a contradiction to expect the EU to persuade Member State governments to comply with its norms, while being reluctant to give it the authority to potentially curb our sovereignty.’”

Further reaction to the decision to block the agreement was swift, with Thomas Waitz and Evelyne Huytebroeck, co-chairs of the European Green Party, issuing a statement that said both Hungary and Poland were “taking the EU budget hostage.”

“By blocking the EU budget and the recovery fund, they are preventing billions of euros from quickly reaching citizens in dire need of support in many European countries heavily affected by the Coronavirus crisis. In other words, they are willing to trade lives for power and unaccountability. This is unacceptable.”

“The Polish and Hungarian governments want full access to EU funding, but they want to avoid any scrutiny on rule of law infringements and on their systematic unravelling of core democratic values. Not only are they directly in contradiction with the EU treaties, but they selfishly harm families, businesses, citizens all across Europe, including in their own countries.”

“The German Council presidency and presidents Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen must use their influence and diplomatic prowess to encourage the governments of Poland and Hungary to understand the urgency and need for the recovery package” Ska Keller, Greens co-leader

Greens leader and Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts said, “The future of millions of Europeans’ health, jobs and savings rests on the recovery package and the MFF being adopted as soon as possible. Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński are holding the Covid recovery hostage just so they can continue to undermine the rule of law and strip away democracy as they see fit.”

“Hungarian and Polish citizens are European citizens and they deserve the support of the recovery plan and to have their fundamental rights protected.”

His colleague, German member Ska Keller added, “European governments have spent years kicking the can down the road and ignoring the deteriorating rule of law situation in Poland and Hungary. The German Council presidency and presidents Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen must use their influence and diplomatic prowess to encourage the governments of Poland and Hungary to understand the urgency and need for the recovery package.”

She added, “A strong recovery and long-term budget will only work if respect for the rule of law is interwoven into any solution that comes out of Thursday's European Council discussions.”

On Tuesday, a European Commission spokesman told reporters, “We need agreement in council and also the Parliament and this is ongoing. I hope it can go forward as planned and that the decisions that need to be taken will be taken for the adoption of the MFF by 1 January.”

“Our focus is not on calculating a new schedule for the package and the disbursement of the funds but, rather, on finding an agreement.”

“Last July Member States agreed on the rule of law conditionality and want to ensure we can find a solution to this now. A total of 25 Member States are not contesting this and we have just two that have taken a position on this issue,” the spokesman said at the Commission’s midday briefing.

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