Europe: Berlin urges Hungary and Poland to unlock funds to prevent economic decline in the EU | International

Orbán, upon his arrival at the European summit that agreed on the recovery fund in July.
Orbán, upon his arrival at the European summit that agreed on the recovery fund in July.JOHN THYS / AFP

Germany, the country that presides over the EU during this semester, urged Hungary and Poland on Tuesday to unblock community budgets and the European recovery fund because, otherwise, “our peoples will pay a very high price,” in his words. The German Secretary of State for European Affairs, Michael Roth, said before presiding over a meeting of the Council of Ministers for General Affairs of the EU that “the German presidency continues to work very hard to overcome the political obstacles” that have arisen.

The Hungarian and Polish governments refused on Monday to support the approval of the so-called own resources decision, the legal act that serves as the basis for the expansion of the EU budget and for the issuance of debt that will finance the 750,000 million euros from the recovery fund.

The German Secretary of State for European Affairs, at a meeting of the European Union in October. In video, Roth urges Poland and Hungary to “live up to their responsibility” and unlock European budgets.(REUTERS)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s contacts with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán have so far failed to persuade Budapest. The veto threat wielded in recent weeks has finally materialized and delays, for the time being, the approval of the expected budgets. Orbán’s position has been joined by the significant but lonely support of Poland.

Budapest and Warsaw have ratified their veto this Tuesday during the General Affairs Council of Ministers. Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Vargas has accused the EU of devising a deliberately designed mechanism to punish her country. “We do not want a country to be sanctioned for pure ideology even though they have not violated any norm,” Vargas pointed out. The Polish Minister for European Affairs, Konrad Szymanski, has been more open to the agreement, but has warned that “the predictability of the mechanism” must be resolved and “legal certainty” offered to all community partners.

The blockade of the two countries prevents the approval of the decision, which requires unanimity, and de facto paralyzes both the new budget framework for 2021-2027, endowed with 1,074 billion euros, and the fund to alleviate the economic damage of the pandemic .

The government of Orbán and the Polish government of Mateusz Morawiecki condition their support to the withdrawal or softening of the new protection mechanism of the rule of law, an instrument that will allow the suspension of aid to countries where a lack of legal security is detected that puts into endanger the financial interests of the Union.

“This is not the time for vetoes, but to act decisively and in a spirit of solidarity,” Roth stressed before starting the ministerial meeting. “We must ensure that the funds reach those who need it as soon as possible,” added the German official. Roth has called for “everyone in the EU to live up to their responsibilities” because the consequences of a budget derailment can be dramatic. “Our peoples will pay a very high price for the blockade,” warned the German official.

During the Council meeting, all the partners urged the approval of the budget package, a position in which the countries most reluctant to the July agreement (such as Sweden or Denmark) and the largest beneficiaries of the fund, such as Spain or Italy, have agreed. On behalf of Spain, the Permanent Representative to the EU, Ambassador Pablo García-Berdoy, has indicated that “whoever doubts the careful July agreement will have to assume an enormous responsibility before the rest of the EU partners and before European public opinion ”.

The Council of Ministers of the EU chaired by Roth celebrates this Tuesday, precisely, the first round of the review of the situation of the rule of law and the quality of democracy in each of the partners. The novel exercise is part of Brussels’ growing vigilance over respect for EU fundamental values, a respect that until now was taken for granted, but which has begun to break down in several Member States.

“Europe is admired around the world for the protection it offers to its citizens, but the rule of law cannot be taken for granted,” Roth said before launching the review. The top five countries scrutinized are Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Estonia. Roth recalled that “the objective is to detect trends before it is too late.”

The new instrument is part of a system that aims to establish periodic monitoring of democratic quality similar to that created with the so-called European Semester for the budgetary and economic situation of the EU partners. The new semester would be based on an annual report from the Commission (published this September for the first time), the country-by-country review in the Council (released this Tuesday) and the mechanism for the protection of the financial interests of the EU that allows suspend funds. Budapest and Warsaw fear the trident despite the fact that, for the moment, the exam is quite innocuous and descriptive. But the experience of the Economic Semester shows that the control can intensify year after year and reach verdicts difficult to avoid by the governments.

Hungary and Poland, however, have been left alone in their resistance and have not even won the support of their two usual allies, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with whom they form the group known as Visegrad. The blocking of budgets, moreover, may mean for Orbán and Morawiecki the loss of support in other capitals if the arrival of aid is delayed excessively. Orbán also faces possible expulsion from his formation from the European People’s Party, a decision stalled for months thanks, in part, to the coverage offered by the German conservatives. A support that would be in danger if Orbán frustrates the recovery fund, one of Merkel’s great European projects.