Orbán: If rule of law debate stalls, we can bypass EU framework for financing

German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (R) at the start of second face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium, 01 October 2020. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET / POOL]

If the debate about tying rule of law to EU finances delays setting up the recovery fund, member states could make intergovernmental deals outside the EU institutional framework, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán suggested before leaving for an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday (1 October), according to state news agency MTI.

EU leaders have a full agenda today discussing foreign policy issues such as tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, EU-China relations, the flare-up in Nagorno-Karabakh, the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and the volatile situation in Belarus.

A discussion on the single market is scheduled for Friday, and Orbán said he expects to have a “formal or informal” discussion on the summer decision to borrow from the markets to finance recovery efforts.

Calling the attempts to link rule of law to disbursement of money “badly timed” because of the ongoing crisis, Orbán suggested that if these debates prevent the recovery fund from becoming operational, there is still a possibility for the member states to set up the fund on an intergovernmental basis, outside the institutions of the EU.

In this way, the fund can be relieved of the burden of disputes within the union and the money can be delivered quickly to countries in need, Orbán said.

On Wednesday, the Council adopted its negotiating position on the so-called rule of law conditionality after a compromise text was put forward by Germany, the current EU presidency holder.

The proposed text scrapped all language referring to “generalised deficiencies as regards the rule of law,” replacing it with more general references to “breaches of principles,” and made it significantly more cumbersome to suspend EU payments.

EURACTIV understands that besides Hungary and Poland, the Frugal Four — Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden — were joined by Belgium and Luxembourg in voting against the compromise, which passed nevertheless.

Orbán’s arch-foe during the summer marathon talks when it comes to rule of law, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, said upon arrival to the summit on Thursday that the German “proposal is not good enough, it should be better,” emphasising that the rule of law conditionality was part of the package agreed in July.

The Council, with Germany at its helm, will now enter into negotiations with the Parliament, which already said that it will want to see strong links between rule of law and EU spending before signing off on the next seven-year budget.

Parliament demands rule of law mechanism before signing off on EU budget

Leaders of the four major political groups in the European Parliament warned on Wednesday (26 August) that they would not sign off on the bloc’s next long-term budget unless there was a formal deal on linking EU funds to rule of law, in the latest signal that lawmakers would not back down on conditionality.

Orbán also told MTI that he is yet to receive a reply to his letter sent to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday, in which he said his government would suspend “all political contacts” with the European executive’s values and transparency chief Věra Jourová over her comments that Hungary was an “ill democracy.”

“No official of the European Union can speak disrespectfully to the citizens of Hungary,” he said.

Orbán breaks political ties with Commissioner over media comments

The Hungarian government has demanded the resignation of European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová over what it said were her “derogatory public statements” about democracy in Hungary, and said it would suspend “all political contacts” with her.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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