“ Blackmail, political slavery, veto.” Political epithets fly through the Brussels meeting rooms when it comes to the conditions that the European Union wants to link to receiving EU subsidies. Poland and Hungary feel disappointed and have used the ultimate means: a veto against all budgetary commitments and the new Corona Recovery Fund of EUR 750 billion.
Its all about the rules of the rule of law. The European treaties state that the rules must be respected, including those on freedom of the press and independent justice.
Poland and Hungary have been on a regular basis in recent years, there have even been procedures against the countries to withdraw their voting rights (Article 7 procedure), but in the end all these attempts were stopped because the two countries always received sufficient support from other countries to stop such a procedure.
Especially in countries such as the Netherlands and Finland, this led to much annoyance. “We have been working on keeping Poland and Hungary on the right path for ten years, but every time they are making a political commitment just in time,” says Kati Piri (PvdA), Vice-President of the Social-Democratic Group in the European Parliament.
The European Parliament has now put the matter on the ground, demanding that no more European money be spent in future to countries that are running under the rule of law. Last week, Germany (as temporary chairman) agreed to a proposal to include such a text in EU rules. As a result, the veto of Poland and Hungary.
“ Its political blackmail. Moreover, there are no objective criteria for what constitutes the rule of law at all,” the Hungarian Minister of Justice Judith Varga described the proposal. The then veto led to a furious reaction in the rest of Europe. For example, the German Minister for European Affairs Michael Roth said today that it is not time for vetoes. “If a country adheres to the principles of the rule of law, one has nothing to fear.”
Germany is now going to try to find a new compromise. That compromise must contain provisions on the rule of law, as the French Minister for European Affairs Beaune says. The leader of the large Christian Democratic Group in the European Parliament, the German Manfred Weber, also says that the rule of law agreements are not necessarily directed against Hungary and Poland. “Europe currently has only one enemy, and that is the coronavirus.”
time being, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, in particular, does not seem to want to give himself a win. Last summer, when the subject was discussed by the Heads of Government at a long EU summit, he succeeded in weakening the original text. Afterwards he walked past the Dutch embassy in the early morning and said with a big smile: “I won. I am satisfied.”
Kati Piri understands that reaction. “He has a lot to lose. All his friends, the family, everyone benefits from the flow of European money. Its almost a revenue model.”
Rutte keeps back straight
The matter was also raised this afternoon in the House of Representatives. In Question Time, Prime Minister Rutte declared the blockade by Poland and Hungary unacceptable. He said that he wants to keep his back straight and that he supports the agreements on the European budget, the Corona Fund and the link to the rule of law.
Rutte stressed that, apart from Hungary and Poland, all EU countries support the agreement on this issue. The agreements are the lower limit for the Dutch cabinet: We do not want to fall underneath it.
The Prime Minister added that the Netherlands is not formally in the present position. He did let several people involved know what he thinks about it behind the scenes.
A majority of parliament stands behind Rutte. D66 Group Chairman Jetten called the attitude of Hungary and Poland too bizarre for words. “Because an autocratic leader like Hungarian Prime Minister Orban wants to continue demolishing the rule of law, the whole Union will soon be without a budget and without a recovery fund to help the economy back on its feet,” he said. Other MPs used similar words.
PVV leader Wilders sees the blockade by Hungary and Poland as great news. He thinks Orban is “a huge hero”, with whom Rutte should join.