Hungary and Poland recently made it clear that they will continue to reject the European Union’s COVID-19 recovery package and a seven-year budget plan made last July. On Monday the 16th, the EU ambassadors met in Brussels to discuss the current budget proposals. The budget was set at €1.8 trillion, with €750 billion set aside for the coronavirus recovery fund. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in July also insisted that fund transfers should be conditional upon adherence to democratic values. As reported by Euronews, Hungary and Poland vetoed the budget plans due to these conditions.
The EU countries’ economies have been significantly affected by COVID-19. The proposed recovery package is therefore of great importance to mitigate long-term economic instability. Daniel Freund, a German MEP, expressed his concerns towards Hungary and Poland’s stance. He stressed that “There (are) thousands of small companies that are on the brink of bankruptcy, that are waiting for this money… We don’t have much time” according to a Euronews report. Furthermore, the Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban expressed his support for the fund transfer’s conditions. He commented that the rule-of-law clause was important protection to ensure taxpayer’s money is “spent in a just and effective manner” as reported by the BBC.
Nevertheless, on Monday the 16th, the Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said the rule of law issue was “just a pretext”. He added that “It is really an institutional, political enslavement, a radical limitation of sovereignty,” according to the BBC. Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs also told Euronews that the responsibility for the budget being blocked lies with “those who have created the situation we are in now”.
The situation at hand is highly complicated. On one hand, Hungary and Poland are rightfully exercising their veto entitlements. Under the budget’s proposed conditions, both Hungary and Poland would be excluded from access to the budget’s funds. As such, the Hungarian and Polish governments’ rejection of the current proposal is understandable, especially considering that the budget is planned for the next seven years.
Yet, on the other hand, the EU members’ frustration with Hungary and Poland’s stance is also understandable. Member states such as Germany and France are among the many that are experiencing a major economic recession due to COVID-19. The sooner the COVID-19 package is agreed upon, the sooner these member states can bounce back from this economic crisis.
Most EU member states regarded the agreement made in July as a great success. EU Council President Charles Michel remarked that it is “unprecedented”, as access to funds would be conditional on countries following the rule of law. According to the BBC, however, Hungary and Poland have been criticized for acting against core EU democratic standards enshrined in the EU’s founding treaty. These claims are still undergoing EU investigation. It intends to review the media and non-governmental organization’s independence in both Hungary and Poland.
Ultimately, it is unlikely that the Hungarian and Polish government will change their current stance on a budget proposal that excludes them from its benefits. The MEPs must find a solution quickly so that EU member states can gain access to the financial assistance they require. Perhaps in the short to midterm, the MEPs should ease the proposed conditions for access to the budget’s funds. The conditions would still focus on adherence to the rule of law; however, Hungary and Poland could be offered an alternative to bypass the immediate implications of this. Specifically, Hungary and Poland should submit a detailed plan indicating how they intend to adhere to the EU’s core democratic standards in the long-term.
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