Warsaw and Budapest: taking Brussels hostage

Warsaw and Budapest: taking Brussels hostage

 Europe is “groaning under the weight of a second wave” of the pandemic, compounding the agony and “economic devastation” of the first, said Peter Kapern on Deutschlandfunk (Cologne). “But the ideologues in Warsaw and Budapest don’t give a damn.” Last week, the EU’s members were supposed to be signing off on a historic s750bn pandemic recovery fund – jointly agreed by member states with great fanfare in July – along with the bloc’s s1.1trn seven-year budget. However, the right-wing nationalist governments of Poland and Hungary vetoed the deal at the 11th hour, because they objected to its so-called rule of law clause. This stops members from accessing funds if the EU deems them to be undermining human rights or judicial independence – charges laid, with some justification, against both countries. EU leaders have now been left scrambling to find a solution to the high-stakes stand-off before the bloc’s new common budget comes into force on 1 January.

What an unholy mess, said Barbara Wesel in Deutsche Welle (Bonn). Slowly but surely, the Polish and Hungarian governments have steered their countries towards authoritarianism in recent years, dismantling their independent judicial systems and undermining the free press, while scapegoating ethnic minorities. All the while, the EU has been “too cowardly” to properly punish them. “Now, at the worst possible time during a worldwide pandemic, Poland and Hungary are taking the 25 other EU member states hostage in their ongoing attempt to crush democracy.” It’s further evidence that the EU should turn its attention to another clause – “one that deals with kicking out member states”. I’m just glad Britain’s out of this mess, said Peter Franklin on UnHerd. The recovery fund marked a massive step on the EU’s journey to becoming a “fully fledged superstate”. If Brexit hadn’t gone ahead, we’d either be bailing out profligate southern European nations or being cast as the “cold-hearted villain of the piece” for objecting. Sure, we’re not getting everything right in the pandemic – “but at least we will be responsible for our own failings”.

The great irony in all of this is that Poland and Hungary have been two of the biggest beneficiaries of EU funding since joining the bloc in 2004, said László Arató in Heti Világgazdaság (Budapest). And both will be among the biggest losers if no deal is reached. Poland stands to get s133bn from the total s1.8trn package, Hungary s41bn. But that’s not to say they’re about to cave in. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, doesn’t compromise easily, and his anti-EU rhetoric helps him – like his Polish counterparts – shore up support at home. The two nations are now seeking concessions which would render the rule of law clause symbolic or even non-existent, said Daniel Hegedüs on EU Observer (Brussels). Meanwhile, with southern European nations in desperate need of fast access to the corona funds, the pressure on Brussels to strike a deal could prove overwhelming. But bending to Poland and Hungary’s demands would be “a huge loss of face for the EU establishment”, showing other “rogue” states that the bloc can be held to ransom by using the veto. This crisis could have “more far-reaching consequences for the EU than Brexit”.

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