Europe’s focus is on Plan A: urgently reaching an agreement on the next EU budget, recovery fund and rule of law mechanism. There is also a Plan B, in case the Hungarian and Polish vetoes are not lifted. The thorny issue of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will be assessed later.
These are the priorities, according to Siegfried Mureșan, a European People’s Party MEP.
The veto imposed by Hungary and Poland on Brussels’ oversight over the rule of law will top the EU summit agenda later today, overshadowing the main purpose of the meeting, which is supposed to be the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The European Parliament and the Council have already agreed on the bloc’s long-term budget and the rule of law, and are negotiating the recovery package.
Muresan told EURACTIV that the two countries are exercising their veto right to block one of the most important pieces of EU legislation in order to influence the outcome of a sectorial piece of legislation, which is the rule of law mechanism.
“It is not normal to mix these two. In any case, the two countries also greenlighted the July EU Council conclusions which provided that a regime of conditionality to protect the budget and Next Generation EU would be introduced,” Mureșan commented.
“Clearly, the preferred scenario is the Plan A, meaning an agreement on MFF, Recovery Fund and rule of law mechanism. We want EU unity and values altogether, we want the Recovery Fund there to be well spent, this is what Europe has committed to toward EU citizens and this is what they expect,” he added.
Considering that the pandemic crisis is far from over and the future is increasingly uncertain for the EU economy, blocking the recovery fund now would have major detrimental implications.
The governments in Poland and Hungary satisfy their domestic audience at the expense of Europe. Not only politically, but also on a public health level. Blackmail in times of an unprecedented public health crisis is something that cannot be forgotten easily.
But everyone should be prepared for a potential deadlock tonight, as Orbán is not an easy player although he is being marginalised even from his close Visegrad partners.
The question is whether EU leaders are ready for Plan B.
“The plan B is to use the budget from last year, which is still functional. However, this was adopted before the pandemic and does not address new priorities, such as boosting healthcare. In this case, we will need new tools. But again, this is not the preferred scenario,” Mureșan said.
In this scenario, EURACTIV understands, the money will be found one way or another, and the strategy will be re-oriented to address new healthcare priorities, while Poland and Hungary will temporarily escape when it comes to the rule of law.
The question is what happens next, politically. How long will the healthy part of the European People’s Party tolerate Orbán and other “little Orbáns” that appear from time to time?
“The current discussion does not make the EPP comfortable and we will have to assess the situation at a later stage. However, the only priority now is to definitely move on with Plan A because the more we debate, the more complicated things become,” Mureșan said.
There is little doubt that everybody’s hope is to have an agreement and simultaneously preserve EU values. But even in this scenario, no one should forget Orbán’s stance.
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Row over rule of law is set to infect the EU virus summit on Thursday (19 November), as Hungary and Poland’s vetoes over the long-term budget and recovery fund will top the agenda, sidelining efforts to tackle the coronavirus epidemic.
Speaking about the rule of law spat, one Greek government official told EURACTIV the discussion is ‘bigger than the EPP’ and the vetoes are symptomatic of bigger problems in the EU.
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Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]