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No resolution in sight in clash with EU

November 23rd, 2020

Commentators ponder whether a compromise is possible in the feud pitting Hungary and Poland against the majority of the EU member countries, over plans to make Union payments to member countries conditional on rule of law compliance.

In its weekly editorial, Magyar Narancs believes that the European Union would be heading for a major crisis if it yielded to the demands of Hungary and Poland. The two governments announced that they would veto the financial package which includes both the coronavirus recovery scheme and the next seven-year budget, in protest against the decision to make EU payments conditional on rule of law compliance. The European Union has for long struggled with the problem of reining in member countries suspected of violating fundamental shared principles, the liberal weekly writes. This problem became apparently insoluble when they were confronted with a tandem of such countries, the editors explain, for they can both veto any resolution against the other in the European Council. This is why EU officials found a passage in the Lisbon treaty which authorises the European Council to create rules on the implementation of the Union budget by a qualified majority, rather than by a unanimous vote. By using this paragraph of the treaty, the majority of member countries approved the so-called rule of law mechanism. That procedure, Magyar Narancs explains, can only address rule of law infringements that jeopardise the clean spending of European funds, but could be triggered for instance if the judiciary in any given country is found to be not independent. Magyar Narancs believes that the Hungarian government is in dire need of European funds but may nevertheless interpret the rule of law conditionality as a dire threat and so stick to its veto. That would create difficulties for the European Union, but the liberal authors deem it much more dangerous for the EU if it were to make concessions to those they call ‘its disruptors and bullies’.

ln Jelen, editor Zoltán Lakner describes the government’s decision to resort to vetoing the coronavirus recovery project and the seven-year budget as a gamble that might pay off. Southern European countries badly need the recovery funds, he notes, and therefore might be ready to compromise. Meanwhile, those funds could be provided on a multilateral basis by those member countries which volunteer to do so, but such an option would not solve the issue of the budget. On the other hand, those member countries which voted for the rule of law mechanism took that decision fully aware of the Polish and Hungarian warning that they would, in this case, veto the financial package, and therefore they should have had a solution for that eventuality. If they don’t have something up their sleeves, what Lakner describes as Prime Minister Orbán’s kamikaze move might prove extremely harmful for Hungary.

Representing the government side in this controversy on Mozgástér, Zoltán Kiszelly recalls that Hungary has voiced misgivings about the coronavirus recovery scheme, because it would result in further debt both on the national and the Union levels. He admits, nevertheless, that Hungary could use that relatively cheap financial resource to combat the impact of the pandemic on the economy. The government cannot accept, however, exposure to political pressure under the pretext of a rule of law procedure, he explains. Kiszelly thinks that once the coronavirus crisis is over and Hungary and Poland can return to their proven economic policies, they might reach such levels of development by the end of the decade as to make them no longer entitled to Union structural and cohesion funds. That would also mean that financial threats would no longer be at the disposal of those who oppose their sovereignist policies. This is why, the pro-government analyst suggests, Hungary’s and Poland’s detractors find it urgent to introduce the so-called rule of law mechanism now.

Magyar Nemzet carries the full text of a letter by Prime Minister Janez Janša of Slovenia to Charles Michel, President of the European Council in which he sharply criticises the so-called rule of law mechanism. By definition, the conservative Slovenian leader writes, the rule of law means that controversial issues must be decided upon by independent courts rather than the political majority of a given institution. Whenever a political body starts considering its own decisions as expressions of the rule of law, it turns its back to reality and uses double standards, Janša concludes.

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