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Weeklies on rule of law deal

December 21st, 2020

Commentators try to make sense of the agreement reached last week on rule of law conditionality of EU financial transfers to member states which enabled Hungary and Poland to abandon their threat to veto the seven-year Union budget and the Covid recovery scheme.

In Jelen, Tamás Fóti dismisses both the view that the deal was a huge defeat for Prime Minister Orbán and the opinion that Poland and Hungary scored a resounding victory. The two recalcitrant governments, he writes, achieved significant amendments to the procedure, but the idea of punishing rule of law transgressions has not been discarded. He expects the European Court of Justice to reject the Hungarian-Polish claim that rule of law conditionality contradicts the Lisbon treaty. Once that verdict is reached, he believes, the European Commission can impose financial sanctions whenever it finds a member country in infringement of the rule of law. Such sanctions, however, can only be imposed if the infringements hinder the proper use of EU financial transfers. The Commission must also lay down elaborate rules about what should be considered an infringement and those rules must be approved by the European Council. These are significant guarantees for the Hungarian government, the veteran liberal EU specialist writes. He adds nevertheless that at the end of the day, Hungary and Poland had to accept the principle of rule of law conditionality, because vetoing the budget and the recovery scheme would have harmed them as much as other member countries.

By way of contrast, Demokrata’s András Bencsik quotes George Soros to prove his point that united action by Hungarians and Poles proved extremely successful. The Hungarian-American financier whose foundations support several government-critical NGOs harshly criticised the European Union for what he saw as yielding to blackmail by the two governments. Bencsik also quotes economist Péter Róna, a staunch critic of the government who said on Klub Rádio that Viktor Orbán achieved what Great Britain wanted but didn’t manage to achieve before leaving the European Union, namely recognition by the leaders of the group that the EU is an economic alliance rather than a political community. Bencsik himself thinks that in actual fact, the strongest countries recognised that if they don’t compromise with the weaker ones, they would jeopardise the future of the Union. All in all, he interprets the deal as a huge blow to what he calls the Soros network, because the deal reached by the government in Brussels will enable it to run for her fourth consecutive term in 2022 under fair conditions.

In his 168 óra editorial. János Kárpáti rejects bitter opposition commentaries that accuse the European Union of betraying the opponents of Prime Minister Orbán. He calls such complaints bizarre because he believes elections in Hungary must be won or lost by local forces. The commentator, who is also a staff member at Klub Radio, dismisses as defeatist the view that the opposition has already lost the elections because of the deal reached in Brussels, given that the first sanctions are not to be expected before 2022. Those who condemn Brussels for allegedly giving up its values and showing disregard towards Eastern member countries, he writes, have many predecessors in Hungarian history who expected some outside miracle to help Hungarians solve their problems. But even in comparison to those daydreamers, Kárpáti concludes, the proponents of the idea that another Fidesz victory cannot be averted without “assistance” from Brussels show an unparalleled lack of self-confidence.

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