Crucial test: Orbán threatens to block Covid aid

Many crisis-hit states are waiting for payments from the EU's coronavirus recovery fund, which the EU Parliament and member states agreed on Tuesday, together with the bloc's seven-year budget. But Hungary's Viktor Orbán is still threatening to use his power of veto over the rule of law mechanism. The same threat came from Warsaw last week, however since then nothing more has been heard from that quarter. How much weight do these declarations of war carry?

Open/close all quotes (DE) /

This battle must be fought

The Hungarian prime minister is bluffing with his veto threat, believes:

“If Viktor Orbán blocks the European budget and Covid aid, he will damage his own interests more than anyone else's. And considerably. Because Hungary is at least as dependent on the subsidies from Brussels as Spain or Italy, where the Covid pandemic is raging particularly violently. Orbán's political friends in Warsaw are keeping a conspicuously low profile. ... It looks like Hungary is pretty much alone at the moment. This could be a good lever for the upcoming negotiations under the leadership of the German EU Council presidency. ... It's unlikely that the Hungarian head of government is serious about his blockade threat. But even if he's not bluffing - this battle is worth fighting.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Kaczyński's Waterloo

Piotr Buras of the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations explains in Gazeta Wyborcza why the PiS leader in Poland is currently holding back:

“Can Jarosław Kaczyński's uprising finally achieve something? Perhaps a legally meaningless declaration by the European Council or the Commission explaining the aims of the mechanism for protecting the rule of law in such a way that Warsaw can accept it and the public broadcaster TVP can announce a success. ... But this blackmail will not be forgotten so quickly. Nor will it be forgotten by the government's opposition in Poland, which likes to talk of Kaczyński's demise. Everything indicates that the PiS leader is on a one-way street. Whatever decision he makes, it will bring him closer to his political Waterloo.”

Népszava (HU) /

An empty threat

Népszava, for one, is not intimidated by the threat:

“The EU is not taking the Hungarian and Polish governments' veto threat very seriously since both countries' economies need every single cent to survive. This is also a prerequisite for winning upcoming elections. ... But if the Hungarian head of government really does lose his temper and starts an open war with the EU, he will stand alone. He won't be able to convince the countries that have been hit hard by the Covid crisis and are waiting for the money.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

Partners must exert pressure

La Vanguardia calls for a negotiated solution:

“This is in everyone's interest. Also that of Hungary, which could really do with aid. It is time for the EU to use its negotiating skills to persuade Hungary to unblock the issue of the special funding while at the same time making it clear to Poland (and other Eastern European countries that might be tempted to follow the same path) that this path does not lead to any convenient destination. ... And the European People's Party (EPP) group, which includes a dozen Fidesz MEPs, should make them understand that they only have a place in the group if they also share its ideals.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

The EU finally has leverage

Socialist MEP Giuliano Pisapia explains what makes the rule of law mechanism special in Corriere della Sera:

“The 'compromise' between the European institutions now stipulates that member states must guarantee freedom of expression, autonomy and independence of the judiciary. ... Measures can be taken even when there is only a suspicion of non-compliance with the rule of law. As soon as a violation has been examined by the EU Commission, the Council makes its decision by qualified majority within a month. This is another important step forward because unanimity - a real evil of the other continental decision-making procedures - is not required for this special and important decision.”