Coronavirus aid without Poland and Hungary?

In the dispute over the EU's rule of law mechanism, Hungary and Poland have strengthened each other's position. They also suggested that the mechanism be discussed once more in the European Council, which Brussels immediately rejected. Previously, EU parliamentarians had suggested that the veto of the two countries could be circumvented through the "enhanced cooperation" procedure stipulated in the EU treaties so that the coronavirus aid can be quickly disbursed to the other countries.

Open/close all quotes
Les Echos (FR) /

Distribute EU funding independently of Budapest

The EU must prevent Viktór Orbán from further enriching himself and his family at the expense of the population, urges Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros in a Project Syndicate piece republished by Les Echos:

“It is not so much an abstract concept like the rule of law that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and, to a lesser extent, Poland's de facto ruler, Jarosław Kaczyński, oppose. For them, the rule of law represents a practical limit on personal and political corruption. ... Only the EU can help. EU funds, for example, should be directed to local authorities, where there is still a functioning democracy in Hungary, unlike at the national level. The EU can't afford to compromise on the rule-of-law provisions.”

Club Z (BG) /

Don't reopen the Brexit wound

Club Z warns against not including Poland and Hungary in the coronavirus aid programme:

“Any use of the intergovernmental method instead of the community method raises the question: what does this Union mean for us if the main agreements among its members have to take place outside of the contractual framework? ... Those who dream of the illusion of a smaller, tailor-made EU seem to have not yet realised that Brexit is not a phase, but an open wound that the EU must heal and not tear open once again.”

wPolityce.pl (PL) /

No going back now

wPolityce.pl praises the joint position of Orbán and Morawiecki:

“The most important thing is the message of unity and solidarity. ... It is a statement that could not be clearer. It says: you will not divide us, you will not play us off against each other, you will not isolate us, you will not be able to bribe us. But it is also a signal to all politicians and officials in Poland and Hungary: there will be no peace without each other. The joint declaration of prime ministers Orbán and Morawiecki strengthens the position of both countries. It increases their chances of winning. ... Since we've already put in our veto we can't let ourselves be fobbed off with another trick from Berlin and Brussels.”

Krónika (RO) /

But Romania gets away with it

Krónika accuses the EU of double standards:

“With regard to the rule of law, shortcomings could be found in every EU member state after a brief investigation if the detailed requirements for compliance were known. ... However, if you live in Romania, you don't have to be a foreign policy expert to see the blatant double standards that apply. For years, Hungary has been accused of violating the independence of the judiciary and the situation of the media. Since no one mentions Romania in the current ritual denunciation, one can only assume that Brussels considers the situation in Romania to be adequate.”

Demokracija (SI) /

Milošević sends his regards

The EU's conduct towards Poland and Hungary is completely unjustified, writes journalist Gašper Blažič in Demokracija:

“When I see what's happening in the European Union today, especially with regard to the misuse of the expression 'rule of law', I wonder at how the EU is slipping into a situation very reminiscent of that of Slobodan Milošević [and his presumption of wanting to determine everything from the centre] at the time of the breakup of Yugoslavia. ... 'Rule of law' has become an excuse to control certain countries. ... In this way the concept of the 'rule of law' is losing its meaning and becoming the very opposite.”

Magyar Hírlap (HU) /

A good excuse for the 'frugal four'

The Polish-Hungarian veto plays nicely into the hands of the EU member states that were never very keen on the idea of mutualised EU debt, Magyar Hírlap surmises:

“The governments of the so-called 'frugal four', spearheaded by Dutch premier Mark Rutte, will be secretly overjoyed because they never wanted mutualised debt or a larger EU budget in the first place. But in times like these, it would have been bad form to grumble in order to save money. It is far more convenient to be able to blame the barbarian 'enemies of the rule of law' [for the lack of unity].”

Público (PT) /

Stop talking and just cut the funding!

It should have been clear long ago that Poland and Hungary would not be involved in the recovery programme, historian Rui Tavares writes in Público:

“There is only one way to go about this. Do not give in and do not show any willingness to reformulate the recovery fund. Put it into practice without the participation of Poland and Hungary so that both governments get the message that unless legality and the rule of law are respected, there is no money. I proposed this solution six months ago. But the pragmatists once again chose to be naive - and we have again lost precious time. What remains is the realism of the idealists.”

Ukrayinska Pravda (UA) /

Veto could be a prelude to Polexit

Commenting in Ukrayinska Pravda, Warsaw-based journalist Olena Babakova sees signs that Poland is moving even further away from Europe:

“Is the scenario of Poland leaving the EU conceivable? At first glance, it would appear to be utter nonsense. But the Polish leaders have begun taking steps in this direction. ... Even before the veto, the government launched a new propaganda campaign aimed at proving that Poland gives the European Union more than we get from it. ... In a bid to stop its decline in the polls, the PiS is now beginning to actively speculate about the usefulness of Poland's EU membership in general.”

Ziare (RO) /

Hungary and Poland have nothing to laugh about

Ovidiu Alexandru Raețchi, MP for the national liberal PNL party, praises the EU for remaining firm in its stance vis-à-vis Warsaw and Budapest in Ziare:

“We are currently seeing how the EU, led by a liberal-progressive Franco-German alliance, is finally starting to take measures against the conservative-authoritarian aberrations of Poland and Hungary. Their misconduct has been tolerated for far too long, and that has led to a total incapacity to make ideological judgements. ... The political context is favourable and it's clear that Macron and Merkel will put their all into this, because the principle of 'non-interference in domestic affairs' has its limits in a Europe of democratic and liberal values. Rightly so.”

Kaleva (FI) /

Union strengthens its profile

It is not yet clear who will emerge as the winner of this dispute, Kaleva says:

“It remains to be seen how far Poland and Hungary are willing to test the patience of the rest. Both in Hungary and Poland, the EU is highly respected among the citizens. But the civil societies of these countries are weak and they have been further weakened. On the other hand, however, the rule of law debate could strengthen the essence of the EU and time could work in favour of its values and ways of functioning.”

Novi list (HR) /

The big players want to exclude the others

The dispute is not such a bad thing for certain players in the EU, Novi List suspects:

“No matter what you may think of the Hungarian or Polish government, it's clear that the old and wealthy EU member states are trying to use the rule-of-law mechanism to bring about a change in how decisions are made in the EU. The idea is to limit unanimous decision-making and make the EU more efficient by allowing opposition to be overridden by a qualified majority. ... Clearly the strongest EU members like France, Holland and Germany are trying to use the crisis to create a coalition of countries that want a new level of integration within the EU, and to shunt countries like Poland and Hungary onto a side track.”

Új Szó (SK) /

A veto that pays off

Új Szó explains why the heads of government of Poland and Hungary would be willing to go as far as renouncing EU funds:

“Infringement proceedings are currently underway against the two countries, but these lawsuits need the approval of all member states. This means that they can bail each other out. In the new rule of law mechanism, a qualified majority would be sufficient to impose sanctions. Since a unanimous vote is not required here, Budapest and Warsaw have no chance of blocking the proceedings. This is why the rule-of-law mechanism is life-threatening from the perspective of these two sovereigntist governments.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Poles could turn against the EU

A campaign is being waged in Poland to put the EU in a bad light, Rzeczpospolita's editor-in-chief Bogusław Chrabota warns:

“Poles still love the European Union. ... When asked how we would vote in a referendum on exiting the EU, 81 percent said they would vote to stay. Almost one in ten - 11 percent of respondents - say they would vote against remaining a member. ... What I fear is something other than a loss of funding: the media storm that is currently being whipped up against the EU in Poland because it is purportedly reprimanding the country for making use of its veto powers. To believe these voices, in a few months similar surveys could produce very different results.”

El País (ES) /

Side-step the blockers

Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt has pointed out that the EU certainly provides for the possibility of individual countries working together on the coronavirus recovery plan, based on the model of cooperation on the euro. Investor George Soros backs this idea in El País:

“The rule-of-law regulations have been adopted. In case there is no agreement on a new budget, the old budget, which expires at the end of 2020, is extended on a yearly basis. Hungary and Poland would not receive any payments under this budget, because their governments are violating the rule of law. Likewise, the recovery fund, called Next Generation EU, could be implemented by using an enhanced cooperation procedure, as Guy Verhofstadt has proposed. If the EU went down this road, the Orbán-Kaczyński veto could be circumvented.”

Ria Novosti (RU) /

At last someone is fighting back against blackmail

Ria Novosti is delighted that the EU's long-standing principle of consensus is being overturned:

“Past events have reinforced the suspicion that to allow the smooth functioning of the famous consensus principle, the more influential EU members use coercion, pressure and blackmail against the 'junior partners' behind closed doors. Just remember how it was with the Russia sanctions: several EU countries openly opposed them because they would also damage their own economies. But when the time to decide came, they voted without a murmur like everyone else. But now two countries are breaking this system simply because they're stubborn enough to hold their ground and aren't afraid to swim against the current.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

United front will soon show cracks

Der Tagesspiegel doubts that an uncompromising attitude towards Hungary and Poland can be sustained for a long time:

“Poland and Hungary are not alone. All ten new members in the east see the North-Western EU as arrogant, pedantic and moralising. They say: We fought to bring down the communist dictatorships, especially Poland and Hungary. The group represents ten of the 27 EU members. ... Quick disbursement of the coronavirus aid is far more important to Southern Europeans than linking it to the rule of law. It won't be long before they beg the countries in the North-West: don't let us suffer because of this dispute. Find a compromise with the countries in the East.”

Yetkin Report (TR) /

A sad imitation of the UN

In today's EU, selfish short-sightedness is preventing the realization of visions, Yetkin Report criticises:

“[A]fter 2005 enlargement, the EU has turned into a smaller version of the UN, where members defend their short term interests and the decisions are made to secure a functioning Single Market, nothing more. At a time when the EU wants to restructure its economic bedrock, with the Green Deal, with the recovery program, we witness a sorry performance there. A Greek Cyprus which acts openly as a submarine to the Russian Federation is hard to swallow for anyone who believes in the future of the EU.Is the EU doomed to disappear? Nothing is more unlikely, and such an outcome would be very bad for the EU countries, and also for Turkey.”

Azonnali (HU) /

Read the text first!

The idea propagated by the Hungarian government that the EU could force the country to adopt a more liberal policy is very far-fetched, Azonnali criticises:

“Overall, the wording of the criteria is specific enough to prevent them being mixed up with identity politics. Statements like 'Brussels is taking our money away from us because we're not letting gays marry or migrants enter the country' are likely to be heard in the future from members of the ruling party, but they're completely unfounded. Because the rule of law mechanism is in effect only about the use of EU funds.”

Népszava (HU) /

Orbán spoiling the prospects for the next generations

Exercising the veto right is not in Hungary's interest, says Népszava:

“The economic effects of the measures that the second wave of the pandemic is making necessary are incalculable. However, there are eternal optimists who dream of mass vaccination at the beginning of next year and consequently hope for economic growth of up to 10-15 percent. But for that to happen the first part of the EU recovery funding totaling 16 billion euros would be necessary. ... In the meantime, the Hungarian government has vetoed the EU budget, including the recovery fund called Next Generation EU. Orbán and his entourage are only thinking of themselves and not of the next generations.”

Tageblatt (LU) /

A breach of law is announced

The intentions of Orbán and Kaczyński are very clear for the Tageblatt:

“The two national-conservative governments no longer want to adhere to the democratic and constitutional principles of the EU but they do want to go on collecting money from Brussels. However, we also see now that they no longer want to respect the democratic decision-making process in the EU, and in this case the European Parliament. ... Since this [rule of law] mechanism is only to be applied to future breaches, the vehement blockade stance is clearly an admission that Warsaw and Budapest have plans that are incompatible with the rule of law and democratic principles in the EU. This looks rather like a state-organised breach of law that is being announced in advance.”

Pravda (SK) /

Brussels should pull in the reins

In the end Poland and Hungary will give in, Pravda suspects:

“The Union dared to propose that only those countries that comply with the rules would receive new funds. ... Both countries are examples of how not to stick to the rules. There, freedom of the press, women's rights and other things make a mockery of EU values. ... It may be time for Brussels to tighten the reins. ... On the other hand, Budapest and Warsaw are the ones who need the millions from Brussels most, despite all their caterwauling. So sooner or later a compromise can be expected.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

EU becoming nothing but a redistribution machine

Brussels cannot go on buying consensus in the long term, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung believes:

“The different approach of the ruling parties in Hungary and Poland to the rule of law is a reality that neither the EU Council nor the Parliament can eliminate. ... The ultimate consequence of this realization would be to cut back the EU's enormous financial redistribution mechanisms. ... However, the EU is doing just the opposite. ... [When the Corona recovery fund was created] the unresolved question of the rule of law was put off in the hope that the large amount of money being provided would be a big enough bargaining chip to make any deal possible. In this way, the EU is increasingly becoming a redistribution machine designed to enhance its capacity to act simply by shifting more and more money.”

Il Manifesto (IT) /

The cost of wishful thinking

The EU's eastward expansion was fuelled by naive and self-serving illusions, Il Manifesto comments mockingly:

“The first was that after the collapse of the Soviet camp, the failed people's democracies would want nothing more than to follow the democratic model of postwar Western Europe. ... The second suggested the following: the former socialist countries would become so dependent on capital and industrial relocations of Western (and especially German) origin that they would obediently and even eagerly not only obey the hard laws of the market, but also emulate the political structures of the economic powers of the Old Continent. ... These not unselfish illusions underestimated the nationalism that was latent and eventually became dominant in the countries of the dissolved Eastern Bloc.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Striking at the core of the EU

The EU is now sliding down the slippery slope of a crisis from which there is no way out, De Standaard fears:

“The governments of two European member states are blackmailing the 25 others in order to create political space for themselves and further undermine the rule of law. This runs counter to the very foundation of the European construct. It is almost unthinkable that a compromise can be found in the current fog. ... This is not a dispute between a handful of European leaders that can be settled within that group. The European Parliament, which must agree, will not allow itself to be demoralised. ... By opting for this nuclear option, Hungary and Poland are isolating themselves in the Union. Excluding them, however, would be a legally and politically unfeasible nightmare.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Poland could be left empty-handed

Poland could now be excluded from the coronavirus recovery fund, Gazeta Wyborcza fears:

“The worst problem that the Polish and Hungarian veto could lead to would be to block the recovery fund. ... There is a serious risk that the rest of the EU will move to restructure the fund to exclude the two countries (e.g. using the 'Eurozone plus' formula). While such a solution is not provided for by law in the normal budget, it is possible in the context of the recovery fund. As early as this spring, during the discussions on the fund, there were concerns in Poland that it could be restricted to apply only to the Eurozone.”

Magyar Nemzet (HU) /

Defence against random application

The rule of law criterion is just a pretext for imposing liberal values on countries like Hungary, the pro-Orbán daily Magyar Nemzet criticises:

“If it is not determined in advance which legal violations could lead to the withdrawal of EU funds, then anyone can rush in with a new idea of how they believe the rule of law criteria are being violated. ... In addition to the homosexual lobby, we can obviously expect those who consider illegal migration to be good and tolerable to show up.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

The threat of even tougher resistance

Neither Warsaw nor Budapest are the biggest threat to the budget and the recovery fund, Corriere della Sera points out:

“Yesterday afternoon in Brussels a rift opened up in Europe. The recovery fund was taken hostage by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, supported by his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki. But Budapest and Warsaw will give in sooner or later. The real threat will come from the so-called frugal four, from Austria through the Netherlands to Sweden.”