Hungary and Poland plunged the EU into political crisis by blocking a £1.65 trillion coronavirus rescue budget that they claimed ‘blackmailed countries into accepting migrants’.
On Monday, the two countries blocked the 2021-2027 budget and the recovery plan, worth a combined 1.85 trillion euros (£1.65 trillion), because access to the funds would be conditional on respecting the rule of law.
Orban, whose nationalist government is under investigation for undermining the independence of Hungary’s courts, media and non-governmental organisations, linked his veto to his continued opposition to mass immigration into the EU.
‘Once this proposal gets adopted, there will be no more obstacles to tying member states’ share of common funds to supporting migration and use financial means to blackmail countries which oppose migration,’ Orban said in a statement published by state news agency MTI.
Viktor Orban, right, Prime Minister of Hungary and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, pictured together in September. The two countries blocked the 2021-2027 EU budged and recovery plan on Monday because the funds would be conditional of respecting the rule of law
Orban’s nationalist government is under investigation by the EU for undermining the independence of Hungary’s courts, media and non-governmental organisations
Orban’s ally Poland, also under a formal EU process for alleged backsliding on democratic principles, struck a softer tone on Wednesday, saying it sought dialogue with its EU partners.
‘(But) if some countries are determined to break EU law, Poland will use its veto right,’ Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s chief of staff said, in a reference to the efforts by some western states to establish a direct link between the allocation of funds and the rule of law.
The eastern states are big recipients of EU subsidies.
Ambassadors of EU countries on Monday accepted a deal struck with the European parliament which establishes a clear link between EU money and the respect for the rule of law. They agreed because this vote required only a qualified majority and the opposition of Warsaw and Budapest could not stop it.
But when it came to voting on the 1.1 trillion euro budget itself and the 750 billion euro (£670 billion) recovery package, which require unanimous support, ‘two EU member states expressed reservations’ the German presidency of the EU said.
The Polish and Hungarian veto was discussed at a meeting of EU European affairs ministers on Tuesday and then at a video-conference of EU leaders on Thursday. But finding a solution might take longer than that, officials said.
Orban linked his veto to his continued opposition to mass immigration into the EU. Pictured: Two boats with migrants are welcomed by other migrants upon their arrival at Arguineguin port, Gran Canaria island, southwestern Spain, November 17
Refugees and migrants make their way in the Kara Tepe camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, October 14. The budget and recovery package do not have any specific clauses about immigration, which Orban has long opposed as a threat to national and European identity and culture
The European Union said it was studying ‘practical solutions’ for resolving the impasse over the recovery plan, but could proceed without Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune said Wednesday.
‘With the German presidency of the EU, we are looking for practical solutions,’ he told senators in Paris, but ‘we are looking, as a last resort, at how to proceed without the countries that are blocking’ a deal.
Beaune said EU officials would consider ‘clarifications’ to the rule-of-law requirement, ‘but certainly not by calling it into question, because our values and our European project are at stake.’
The European Union said it was studying ‘practical solutions’ for resolving the impasse over the recovery plan, but could proceed without Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune (pictured) said Wednesday
‘Europe cannot be held hostage by a certain number of governments that do not want to move forward, that do not respect the bedrock of our political project,’ he warned.
The budget and recovery package do not have any specific clauses about immigration, which Orban has long opposed as a threat to national and European identity and culture.
Political Capital analyst Patrik Szicherle said Orban’s comments were aimed at shoring up support among his nationalist base and also at broadening his options in upcoming talks.
There were 1.84 million cases recorded last week, a ten percent decline on the previous seven days, according to data released by the WHO
The seven average number of Covid-19 cases per million people in the EU has started to level off or fall after weeks of new lockdowns designed to stem the spread of the second wave
‘He wants to dilute the conditions enough not to limit his room for manoeuvre,’ he said. ‘At the same time frugal states like the Netherlands want firm conditions (to disbursement of funds)… This is a stalemate we don’t see a clear path out of.’
Germany, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said on Tuesday it was confident of finding a compromise.
Czech and Slovak foreign ministers, at a joint news conference on Wednesday, urged swift action to ensure a speedy release of money sorely needed to revive Europe’s pandemic-stricken economy.
Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said the German presidency could probably end the deadlock before year-end.
Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok said the deadlock ‘does not please anybody… there is still space to find a solution, to depoliticise the whole issue’.
The veto is likely to cause a delay in the launch of the 1.8 trillion euro package that combines the EU’s long-term budget and the bloc’s economic recovery plan, but is unlikely to derail it altogether, a senior French official said on Monday.
‘Hungary and Poland blocking the European budget doesn’t put into question our determination on the recovery and the rule of law,’ Beaune said on Twitter. ‘A solution will be found in the coming weeks, France is fully involved to find one.’
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said it was an absolute necessity to link the distribution of European funds to rule of law standards in member states, especially when the sums to be handed out were so vast.
A man rides an electric bike in front of the Eiffel Tower, on the Trocadero plaza in Paris on November 18, 2020, during a second lockdown in France aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus
The nationalist governments in Budapest and Warsaw are against linking EU money and respect for the rule of law because they are under a formal EU process investigating them for undermining the independence of courts, media and non-governmental organisations.
If the link, introduced by EU leaders in July and strengthened by the European Parliament, remains, both countries risk losing access to tens of billions of euros in EU funds.
‘Poland is counting on a rational approach of our partners and on working out rules which would allow to reach an agreement,’ a Polish government spokesman said.
Without unanimous consent on the 1.8 trillion euro package no EU country can get its money, giving Warsaw and Budapest strong leverage to pressure others to remove the link.
But a group of countries led by the Netherlands as well as the European Parliament wanted an even stronger link and have said they would not approve the budget without it.
‘Denying the whole of Europe crisis funding in the worst crisis since decades is irresponsible,’ Manfred Weber, who heads the biggest group in the European Parliament said on Twitter.