The governments of Poland and Hungary maintain their challenge to the EU with their veto on community budgets. After a meeting this Thursday in the Hungarian capital between the Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, with his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orbán, both leaders insisted on their refusal to link compliance with the rule of law with EU funds, a proposal that Orbán qualifies as "unacceptable." But after 10 days of combative rhetoric blaming Brussels for waging a political campaign against them, Warsaw and Budapest for the first time hint at possible ways out to unlock European money.
What the ultra-conservative leaders have proposed through a statement is a double negotiation path: the first, more in the short term, would be to agree on a conditionality clearly linked to financial control, and the second, more in the long term – and politically more unlikely – It would be to include the mechanism for monitoring the rule of law in the treaties. The closing of the ranks of Poland and Hungary, as well as their decision to remain united until the end, reduces the margin of maneuver of the German presidency and complicates the search for an agreement that satisfies both capitals at the same time.
"The current proposal is not acceptable to Hungary," the ultranationalist Viktor Orbán assured in a press conference after the meeting. Morawiecki, for his part, insisted that the mechanism of linking compliance with the rule of law with European funds is "a dangerous solution that could lead to the disintegration of the EU." Hours earlier, the Polish Prime Minister had already warned that, just as the Commission "now has Poland and Hungary in its sights", in the coming years it could be other Member States that "have the same problem."
The blockade has originated a new institutional crisis in the Union that puts at stake the approval of the pandemic recovery budget (750,000 million euros) and the European economic budget for the next six years (1,074 billion euros). An injection of money that governments such as Spain and Italy anxiously await in a Europe that is severely affected by the coronavirus. Although the situation is still far from being solved, the analyst Stefano Bottoni argues from Budapest that it is "the best moment" for the EU to pressure Orbán in his defense of compliance with European values due to the "very compromised situation" that Hungary is going through.
"Society is increasingly angry about the management of the covid in the second wave, the number of infections is still very high, the economy has also suffered, tourism has fallen completely and 2021 will be a pre-election year," explains Bottoni for telephone. The analyst, author of the book Orbán, a despot in Europe, considers that the Hungarian Prime Minister's order to the EU is very risky, but not only in economic terms, but also in terms of prestige. "The leader of Fidesz has spent years defending an illiberal model of democracy away from the dictates of the EU and, if he does not manage to put Brussels on the ropes and get away with it, he will lose his influence."
Lack of support in the region
The decision to block European funds has not finally been seconded by two of its regional partners who are part of the Visegrad club: neither the Czech Republic nor Slovakia have accompanied Orbán in his latest crusade against Brussels. Instead, ties with the Government of Poland are tighter than ever. They are united by the same ultra-conservative, reactionary and authoritarian vision on issues such as women's rights, the LGTBI collective, the lack of freedom of the media, the judicial reforms that have undermined the division of powers in both countries … AND thus to a myriad of policies that violate some of the values on which the EU is based.
This continuing deterioration of the rule of law has divided – to the extreme – Polish and Hungarian citizens between supporters and detractors of Viktor Orbán and Jaroslaw Kaczynski (leader of the party in the Warsaw Government). Last Tuesday, the mayors of Warsaw and Budapest, both from the opposition to the Government, expressed their resounding rejection of the veto. Speaking to this newspaper, the Warsaw councilor, Rafal Trzaskowski, acknowledges that he was concerned about the "image of lack of solidarity" towards the rest of the member states that the leaders of Poland and Hungary are transmitting.
Despite the distancing from the community club, public opinion in both countries remains favorable to the EU. In fact, according to a Eurobarometer survey published a month ago, 72% of Hungarians support that the Union should only provide funds to countries on the condition that their governments comply with the rule of law. The acceptance rate is repeated in Poland. "The government's position does not reflect the whole of Hungary," analyst Gabor Scheiring says by phone. And he warns: "In the short term, Orbán may not need an injection of money like Spain or Italy, because the Hungarian economy is in better health, but in the long term the outlook may get complicated."