Viktor Orbán had warned that he would veto the European budget and recovery plan if the rule of law was to condition the people of Brussels. The Union was sorely mistaken in thinking that it would not keep its word and risk suffering from it, forecasts the benchmark Magyar weekly.
European heads of state and government would have been amply satisfied with the conditions of the seven-year budget and the stimulus plan negotiated this summer. The decision came about after five days of discussions: more than 1 trillion euros for the 2021-2027 cycle and 750 billion fueling the reconstruction plan. The latter is the most important, because the impacted economies were just emerging from the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and quickly needed this money. Today, the damage is increasing and it is not known until when the epidemic will last, hence the urgent need for funds.
The rule of law mechanism was also part of the July agreement. But this one, endowed with a slow and difficult procedure as well as a restricted application, did not carry this title. Viktor Orbán did not even call him that and was delighted to have passed between the drops, the Parliament having given him a mandate before the negotiations for his country to escape. The debate continued for several weeks on the definition of this mechanism, the spirits calmed down and then all these beautiful people went on vacation.
The European Parliament returned from summer holidays earlier than the others, displaying a strategy of hardening that some thought was temporary. They will not insist, one wrongly imagined in the upper echelons of Brussels. Parliament clung to the strictest conditions of the rule of law and declared that it would not vote on the budget if these were not implemented. They persisted, and the Member States let it happen, at least the majority. Orbán, not a fan of compromise, replied that it had nothing to do with the July agreement. In September, he vetoed it in other words. But the others thought he wouldn’t keep his word. And were wrong again.
Today, here we are with a rule of law criterion but no money to tie it to. A qualified majority was sufficient to accept the conditionality mechanism and this was met during the vote of the ambassadors of theEU Monday 16 November. On the other hand, Poles and Hungarians torpedoed with their no the multi-year budget and the stimulus plan which required unanimity.
A financial crisis is now added to the health crisis. The leaders of the Union institutions and Angela Merkel are trying to find a way out. This fall, Viktor Orbán argued that the rescue plan should be organized not through the Union itself, but through a compromise between governments if member states fail to come to an agreement. Conceivable in practice, this recommendation would lead to horrible procedural complications which would overwhelm the administrations of the twenty-five Member States participating in the program and the European bureaucracy.
Of course, that would not bother the Hungarian and Polish prime ministers in any way. However, Budapest and Warsaw know that they would respectively benefit from 8 and 30 billion euros from the recovery fund without having to repay them. And that these governments have, moreover, the possibility of obtaining credits of smaller sums at preferential rates in order to mitigate the economic consequences of the pandemic. If Hungary and Poland do not use these credits, they will have nothing to pay after 2027, and the 750 billion euros of stimulus are in any case the first common credit in the history of the Union. Finally, nothing is fixed yet.
The matter of the seven-year budget is even more difficult. A budget cannot be prepared between the heads of state and government of theEU. But impossible to do without. If the current stalemate persists and the seven-year budget is not voted, then the 2021 money will be exactly the same as that distributed in 2020 and for the same allocations. The Union cannot operate on an ad hoc budget for eternity. In addition, the Union’s priorities focus on the fight against the effects of climate change, research and development, border defense, education, health, and not paving the way. By vetoing, Orbán says no to everything else except the cobblestones.
One of the saddest days ofEU
The Hungarian Prime Minister is usually presented as someone whose sole objective is to use structural funds to enrich his friends. Its positioning tends to corroborate its reputation. But that does not matter for him, since during the last cycle Hungary obtained more regional and cohesion funds than for the next seven years. Furthermore, if we enter the era of ad hoc budgets calibrated on the basis of 2020 figures, then Hungary will receive more money than in a “normal” configuration. And to top it off, the rule of law mechanism cannot be applied retroactively because it would violate the values and the law of the European Union. The scenario seems so convoluted that it is difficult to imagine the Hungarian Prime Minister seriously taking the risk, although he is capable of it.
According to Hungary, everyone else is responsible for having come to this. Except the Poles. Everyone else thinks Hungary is guilty. Except the Poles. Only a political decision would resolve this situation. A bag of legal knots would never have an outcome. We have reached a point from which it will be extremely difficult to extricate ourselves. Voters from Member States will inevitably go to the polls at one point or another in their respective countries. In more and more countries, how to protect European taxpayers’ money from those who want to steal it has become a campaign theme. Anyone who gives up ballast on this subject will lose votes.
This blockage is one of the saddest days of theEU. We are witnessing the bankruptcy of solidarity, of the spirit of construction and of community, of confidence, of coaching, of responsibility and of hopes for compromise.
Launched ten years before the fall of the Wall by reformers open to liberalism, Heti Világgazdaság (“Weekly World Economy”) is today the benchmark Magyar weekly. Sometimes a fan of punching blankets