The Brief: The secret weapon against rogue countries

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

At his first EU summit last week French President Emmanuel Macron signalled that there will be a change of attitude vis-à-vis the EU’s ‘rogue countries’.

On the one hand, he made it clear that, unlike his predecessor, he will speak to their leaders. But on the other hand, he warned that “solitary battles end up in solitude”.

Hungary’s flourishing “illiberal democracy” and Poland’s “systemic threat” to the EU’s democratic foundations are a matter of concern for a founder member state like France.

Even more so than their refusal to relocate migrants from Greece and Italy. Bad apples spread disease after all.

EU leaders have floated the idea that solidarity is not a one-way street, and that EU cohesion funds could be withdrawn from countries that fail to meet EU standards on the rule of law.

But this is easier said than done. At present, the EU legislation doesn’t allow any such linkage.

And changing the legislation is close to impossible, although Merkel and Macron put on a brave face during the summit and said that EU treaty change is not taboo.

So is there a secret weapon against rogue members? The answer is yes.

Some believe that the EU institutions should become tougher and freeze EU funds when they smell corruption.

Reportedly, when it comes to EU funds and Hungary, corruption is commonplace, but the media are unable to report on it.

Hungary has become a mafia state under Viktor Orbán’s rule, says Bálint Magyar, a sociologist and a former education minister.

He says that most newspapers and radio stations are now owned by oligarchs close to Orbán, and state television has become a vehicle for government propaganda. EU money, by the way, is funnelled to those outlets, which is a scandal in itself.

The EU instrument for fighting corruption like this is OLAF. But if we follow reports of its activity, the European Anti-Fraud Office seems to be big on small things, like cigarette smuggling, and small on big things, like EU money being used for political purposes.

But this situation is likely to change, as the EU’s net contributors are upping the pressure to turn off the funding tap for the bloc’s rogue members.

The Roundup

Basel III: EU and industry officials say that agreement on the new banking sector reform package is unlikely ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg next week.

The European Commission’s renewed five-year antimicrobial resistance action plan focuses on setting “measurable goals” for member states writes EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos.

Euro Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis told EURACTIV’s Jorge Valero that a new EU-wide personal pension plan will help save money in an ageing society.

Serbia’s first female prime minister has pledged to stick to its EU membership path by reforming the country’s education system and digitalising state administration.

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has urged Brussels to provisionally implement the CETA free trade agreement. Disputes over cheese continue though.

Over 100 business leaders backed a report on climate-related risks, which could see trillions in investments diverted away from polluting fossil fuels.

Climate experts have warned that we may only have three years to prevent dangerous climate change and have come up with six goals that could be adopted at the upcoming G20 meeting in Hamburg.

MEPs today discussed the issue of stateless persons, in a Brussels first. Germany has called for a lasting ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. Czechs can now legally shoot people during terrorist attacks.

Donald Trump accepted an invitation from Emmanuel Macron to join him for the Bastille Day celebrations. The new French president has called a special joint parliamentary session on 3 July, which will be held at Versailles.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley boasted on twitter about having “cut over half a billion dollars” from the UN peacekeeping budget. Maybe peace is overrated…

UK Brexit boss David Davis claimed that Brexit is going to be harder than a moon landing. It seems cruel to point out that Britain never actually put a man on the moon…

Sam Morgan contributed to this Brief.

Look out for…

The German parliament votes on whether to recognise same-sex marriage. It’s the last day of the month and the last day of the Maltese Presidency of the EU. They will hand over the baton to Estonia. Before Valletta waves farewell, check out our ‘The Presidency’ video series that we have been publishing over the last six months.

Views are the author’s.

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