EU avoids melee with Hungarian front over anti-pandemic funds (Júlia Manresa Nogueras)

Ignoring the child when he rebukes, avoiding confrontation, is one of the most used strategies by parents even if it involves a while of headache and nervousness. Yesterday, the heads of state and government of the European Union opted for the same path in front of the front led by the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, who, together with his Polish counterparts, Mateusz Morawiecki, and Slovenia, Janez Jansa, they have hijacked the final approval of European anti-pandemic funds because they oppose their link to the principles of the rule of law (freedom of the press, separation of powers or judicial independence, for example). “This is starting to be childish,” said a diplomatic source lamenting the situation.

“I don’t see why we should move,” said a second diplomatic source when asked how to untie the knot. And that’s the message they sent yesterday at the virtual summit that was initially only meant to be pandemic. They spent just over 15 minutes discussing European funds, and only the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who holds the rotating presidency of the Union, spoke. . Then Orbán, Morawiecki and Jansa took the floor.

Prior to the summit, Michel had contacted the capitals to ensure that “the situation would be under control”, according to community sources, after a meeting on Tuesday between European ministers in which the tension became apparent because, after all, there are 1.8 trillion euros at stake in a war-sized economic recession. Michel and Merkel believe that a discussion of this dimension should be held in person and is therefore left for the December summit which is scheduled as such.

This approach indicates, however, that it is being negotiated behind the scenes with the confidence of reaching an agreement. “I do not want to speculate, we want to work hard in this regard, we are trying all the options, we are at the beginning of the road and that is why I do not want to give more details,” said Merkel at the end of the video meeting. “Now we sit down, negotiate, listen to the problems and try to solve them,” said Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in Merkel’s line.

It’s not just that the minority that articulates the blockade is right in this, in the minority. Is that in an eventual absolute blockade of funds and budgets, a lot is at stake. Poland is the main recipient of cohesion funds from the European Union (66 billion at 2018 prices), and Hungary is also at the top of the table (it receives more than Spain, almost 20 billion). In addition, in the planned distribution of anti-pandemic funds, Poland is the fourth country that should receive the most money by 2023 (almost 19 billion). Hungary is playing 4.3 billion and Slovenia is almost 1.2 billion euros.

Either way, the mechanism linking the granting of funds with respect for the rule of law is already approved, so even if they block the approval of the next budget, the little money that arrives would already be conditioned by this clause. We say few because in a possible extension of the current European budgets the cohesion funds would be considerably cut, for example.

So the European capitals are confident that, thanks to the negotiation led by Merkel, the Budapest front will give way precisely to this money and realize that blackmail can be turned against it.

THE KEYS

1. Why has the recovery fund not yet been approved?

Because, although the agreement between the Twenty-seven Heads of State and Government of the European Union was closed in July, it did not imply its immediate implementation. That was the political impetus that needed to be detailed at a technical level in the negotiations with the European Parliament and the subsequent ratification of the states, negotiations that have lasted months.

2. Why are Hungary, Poland and Slovenia blocking it?

The anti-pandemic fund agreed in July means that the European Commission will go into debt to reach 750 billion, which it will then distribute among credits and subsidies to the states. In addition, they will be channeled through the European budget 2021-27 that was to be agreed and to which a clause has been added that links the receipt of funds to compliance with the principles of the rule of law (factors such as the separation of powers or freedom of the press). And this is where Hungary, Poland and Slovenia (in authoritarian drift) have problems. As they cannot veto the clause (approved by a qualified majority) they veto the other elements of the fund that do need unanimity.

3. What can the EU do to unblock it?

For now, the rest of the leaders choose to isolate them. They believe that respecting EU principles is as important as urgently approving funds and putting pressure on the Hungarian-led front. As a last resort one could choose to exclude them from the distribution of funds or leave them without a vote, but these are options that are not expected to have to be resorted to.

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