“Our peoples will pay a very high price for the blockade.” “It will cost the citizens of Hungary and Poland because this is a project for everyone.” Between the two statements there was something like six hours, which lasted the General Affairs Council that the Twenty-seven held this Tuesday in videoconference format. Its author was the German secretary of state, Michael Roth. And although in essence they come to say the same, the second precision denotes an ‘in growing’ burden of Germany’s pressure on the two countries that last Monday forced a sudden stop to the 2021-2027 multi-year budget and the recovery plan of 750,000 million euros hanging from it. At 1.8 trillion in total, momentous for the post-pandemic era.
Pressure from Germany, which has just over a month of rotating EU presidency left, with Angela Merkel especially proactive, pulling the phone to try to convince Viktor Orban. Not alone. The front is Twenty-five to two. Because in this first high-level forum, that of the veto hangover, it was reaffirmed that the two Visegrad countries – that eastern club that Slovakia and the Czech Republic complete – do not even have the support of their traditional partners.
millions of euros. These are the amounts of the recovery fund (between loans and direct grants) that would correspond to Poland (64,000 million) and Hungary (15,000 million).
“This is not the time for vetoes, but rather to act quickly and in a spirit of solidarity. This is a matter of joint responsibility, “insisted Roth in a tone somewhat more forceful than that set by diplomatic standards. It was part of that choreography that mixes intimidation and frustration and that permeated the speeches of different national spokesmen. But without effect. At least for now. Budapest and Warsaw (more the first than the second) maintain the blockade arguing that the clause that conditions the transfer of funds to respect the rule of law is “ideological” and “intrusive.” The Hungarian head of justice, Judit Varga, assured that “we never want to live in a political system in which one can be punished for ideological reasons without violating any rule.” His assertion – clearly intoxicated with the past of Soviet authoritarianism – had nothing to do with the tone of Poland, whose minister Konrad Szymanski pointed to greater precision in the wording, to a “lack of legal certainty” about the mechanism.
All under examination
But “if everyone says that they respect the rule of law, why are they afraid of the conditionality of the rule of law?”, The Italian Vincenzo Amendola was questioned. Crystalline. The point is that beyond the energetic tone, there was also an attempt to dispel stigmatization. It is true that the regressive policies of Hungary and Poland have placed them under the focus of the European Commission and the European Parliament and it is also true that both countries have open legal proceedings for their drifts.
But this Tuesday it was insisted that the clause “does not go against anyone.” In fact, the emphasis was on “the importance of all of us learning from each other to identify where we need to improve.” An idea with which the German Secretary of State wrapped the first batch of reports on the particular situation of each country that the EU has begun to promote.
To be examined in groups of five, following a strict alphabetical order and with semi-annual presentation, which implies several years ahead until the analysis of the Twenty-seven is completed. But everyone will have to face that revalidation because what it is about, he remarked, is “to equip ourselves with an instrument that contributes to preventively correct the deficiencies that we detect in the rule of law.”
So pressure, frustration, and attempts at redress. All in one package that will have to be seen if it manages to shorten the time that Prime Ministers Viktor Orban and Mateusz Morawiecki are willing to keep up. On the horizon, some kind of enveloping and imprecise formal statement. They have already got their colleagues to discuss the matter at tomorrow’s videoconference summit.
Although the key is in something much more pragmatic. The money. The first wave of the pandemic touched them, the second has hit them with the same harshness as the rest of Europe. The budget still in force delivered to Poland more than 75,000 million of the Funds and Investment (structured in five items). In the case of Hungary it was 21,000 million. The recovery plan, which would allow Spain to enter 140,000 million between direct grants and loans, foresees 64,000 million for the first and around 15,000 for the second.
The other veto: Bulgaria closes the door to North Macedonia
Another veto. As if that were not enough with which it is falling, the negotiations for the enlargement of the European Union suffered a new setback on Tuesday. Germany hoped to close its presidency with a negotiating framework approved unanimously with countries such as North Macedonia and Albania (the process is more advanced with Montenegro and Serbia and practically forgotten with Turkey). But Bulgaria said no, that it vetoes North Macedonia, with which it maintains a historical tension. All ministers agreed that “stability and democracy in the Western Balkans is of strategic importance for the EU,” said Michael Roth, who asked Sofia to leave bilateral disputes for “later”. Unsuccessfully.