On Monday, Hungary informed the German EU presidency that due to the rule of law debate, it will veto the 2021-27 EU budget, including a recovery package for member states for the economic restoration following the coronavirus epidemic. While the Hungarian side talks about “political blackmailing,” and Prime Minister Orbán has said he fears that what the rule of law means in Brussels, is that countries should let illegal migrants in, 25 member states are ready to accept the package tied to the rule of law mechanism.
Prime Minister Orbán has announced that the Hungarian government will veto the EU coronavirus recovery scheme and the next seven-year budget unless the Union withdraws the resolution of the rule of law condition of EU payments to member countries. At the same time, the Hungarian and Polish ambassadors informed the German EU presidency, who asked for political endorsement, that they will veto the budget unless changed. However, the other 25 member states were ready to accept the whole package, including the rule of law condition. While on the rule of law condition a qualified majority is enough for a decision, and the two votes against are not enough, regarding other points an unanimous decision is required, so if Hungary and Poland stick with a veto, other decisions concerning the budget cannot be accepted. So far, the two countries have just blocked the process, and an agreement can only be reached with an amendment – either on the conditions, or the position of governments that have so far refused the agreement.
While most EU states and the politicians say that it is Hungary and Poland who caused the process to stop, the other party says that it is not them but the other 25 member states that are responsible. There has been a stalemate, both legally and politically, for which the opposing parties blame each other, and so far it seems that there is no willingness to make concessions on either side that would cause the other side to change its intentions. So what do the politicians and member states think about the situation, and what does the Hungarian government say?
The Prime Minister said that “those who protect their borders and their countries from migration are no longer considered by Brussels to be rule-governed states,” adding that once the current proposal tying the rule of law to funding was adopted, funding would be “tied to support for migration” and used to “blackmail” countries that oppose it.
Orbán said that in the course of debates on migration in recent years, the rule of law had been politically weaponized. Without objective criteria and the possibility of a legal remedy, no procedure that aims to penalize member states should be based on it, he added.
According to Justice Minister Judit Varga, the main problem is that “there is no clear, objective criteria and definition for the principles of the rule of law. So you cannot use it as a tool for a concrete sanctioning mechanism.”
She added that in addition, the text is “completely wrong, because it says that if you breach the principles of the rule of law, then this is the sanction. And when listing examples of breaching the rule of law, they keep the list open. As she put it “jokingly:”
“To sum it up: today, rule of law is anything and everything they don’t like about Hungary. This is what we are experiencing.”
At the same time, Katalin Novák, deputy leader of Fidesz and Minister for Family Policy said that back in 2018 former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who is currently president of the European People’s Party, called it a “risky move” to tie European Union budget allocations to member states to compliance with standards regarding the rule of law.
On her Facebook page, Novák shared a link to a Polish article in which Tusk had said that the plan to tie receipt of EU funds to the issue of the rule of law was “pointing in the wrong direction.” Novák cited Tusk as saying that he had deemed the move risky not only because he would want to avoid Poland being punished, but also because it would hurt Europe if the issues of EU funds and the rule of law got mixed up.
She added that “the payment of funds allocated for various purposes in the common EU budget must not be subject to purely political criteria,” quoting Tusk in the article.
On the Polish end, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki scolded the EU harder than ever. He likened the rule of law mechanism to communist propaganda and called it a ‘jerk’ with which European oligarchs want to unjustly regulate weaker countries. He said that “such an EU has no future,” adding that the rule of law mechanism could “cause the EU to collapse.”
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa also backed the criticisms made by Poland and Hungary when they vetoed the EU budget over plans to tie funding to respect for the rule of law. He said “some political groups… are openly threatening to use the instrument wrongly called ‘rule of law’ in order to discipline individual EU Member States through a majority vote,” in a letter published in local media.
While the Hungarian government is complaining that the document does not state a clear, objective criteria and definition for the principles of the rule of law, according to Article 2 of the Rule of Law Criteria, it defines what constitutes a breach of the rule of law. These are:
- endangering the independence of the judiciary,
- failure to prevent, correct, and sanction arbitrary or illegal decisions by public authorities, including law enforcement authorities,
- withholding financial and human resources affecting the proper functioning of these bodies,
- lack in providing conflict of interest,
- restrictions on the effective investigation, prosecution, or sanctioning of infringements.
Following a meeting between the leaders of the European Parliament’s political groups and the President of the European Parliament on Wednesday, they called on the European Council which has the final say on EU affairs, that the Heads of State and Government should adhere to the original vision of the European Union’s seven-year budget and recovery fund, including the incorporation of the rule of law mechanism. According to the statement, “discussions on the content and terms of the package have been concluded and renegotiation is ruled out.”
Manfred Weber, a politician at the German Christian Democratic Union (CSU) and leader of the European People’s Party faction, indicated in a Twitter message that he considers it impossible to relax the rule of law. He said the European Parliament did not support the proposal in this case.
According to Brussels sources, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission respectively, have all tried to get the Hungarian and Polish governments to change their decision. However, the Hungarian government has stated before that they are ready to opt out of the rescue package and give up billions of euros rather than be bound by the rule of law.
At the same time, the ministers of 25 EU member states called on the Hungarian and Polish governments to lift their veto on the adoption of the EU budget, while Germany is talking about an agreement, but it is not yet known what kind of compromise is possible.
Ana Paula Zacarias, Portugal’s minister for Europe said in the name of the member states that “this is not a time for power games, but for unity, and there is no need for a political crisis in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.” Her Italian counterpart pointed out that the objections of Hungary and Poland were contradictory, because if all Member States claim to respect the rule of law, there is no reason for anyone to oppose the conditions of the rule of law. According to Vincenzo Amendola, everyone can never be completely satisfied with a compromise, saying that “whoever vetoes, reaps a storm.”
Hungarian opposition criticizes the veto
Opposition parties are on the same page in harshly criticizing the Fidesz-led Hungarian government for vetoing the EU budget and coronavirus recovery package over the rule of law issue. According to them, if the Prime Minister would seriously veto the plan, Viktor Orbán’s move would “endanger the livelihoods of many,” only in order to “secure his corrupt system.”
In the featured photo: Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán and Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki. Photo by Vivien Cher Benko/PM’s Press Office