Row over coronavirus fund a crucial test for the EU

The EU has faced Poland and Hungary with an ultimatum in the dispute over the rule of law mechanism: either they drop their veto on the next EU budget or the other 25 countries will push through the coronavirus recovery fund without them. EU representatives want to see clear signs that the two countries are willing to compromise before the EU summit on Thursday. Commentators highlight the enormous implications of the row.

Open/close all quotes
De Volkskrant (NL) /

This is about Europe's legitimacy

This is about much more than finances, De Volkskrant columnist Sheila Sitalsing points out:

“Money is at stake here: the entire EU budget for the coming years as well as the 750-billion-euro coronavirus recovery fund could be rejected in the event of 'no deal' with the pseudo democracies that were so warmly welcomed into the European Union 16 years ago. A 'financial disaster', some people are saying. However, it would be even more catastrophic if the EU member states were to buckle once again, letting the loud mouths in Europe boss them around. Then we'd be better off without a budget or a coronavirus fund. Let us stick to our guns. An EU that allows itself to be tripped up by pseudo democracies will lose all legitimacy.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Ultimately more important than Brexit

There must be no compromises with Warsaw and Budapest now, The Financial Times agrees:

“The proposal to tie future EU funding to respect for the rule of law represents perhaps the last proper opportunity for Brussels to put pressure on the Polish and Hungarian governments to change course. If that effort fails, the EU may have to accept that its claim to be a club of law-governed democracies has lost credibility. That failure would be all the more galling, given that the Poles and Hungarians would continue to receive lavish funding from the EU budget. Getting the Hungarian and Polish issue right is ultimately more important than Brexit.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Make Poland and Hungary rethink their position

The EU states must follow their words with deeds, the Süddeutsche Zeitung urges:

“It is possible to get the recovery fund up and running without Poland and Hungary. Going without the money would be particularly painful for Poland. In the event of an EU emergency budget, both countries would suffer without being able to prevent the rule of law mechanism. The more credible the pressure, the more seriously Poland and Hungary will have to think about whether they're willing to have their own people pay the price for their veto. Angela Merkel will not be able to end her career in European politics with a superficial compromise.”

Polityka (PL) /

Orbán is the tougher nut to crack

Polityka believes that Poland will come around before Hungary does:

“In confidential talks between Berlin, Warsaw and Budapest, the central question is still whether Viktor Orbán is mainly driven by the desire for ideological revenge (in which case the veto can hardly be avoided) or whether he is above all looking to avoid repercussions in the event that fraud involving EU funds is detected. Poland is considered less of a tough nut to crack. In its current form the project 'money in exchange for the rule of law' would be acceptable for the PiS government, since EU funds have been managed more or less correctly in our country.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Czech Republic could be the next in line

In the dispute with Poland and Hungary Hospodářské noviny has so far consistently supported the EU's position. Now commentator Julie Hrstková breaks ranks:

“Yes, Poland and Hungary have taken a path that has little to do with the European concept of independence and justice. But if we accept the exclusion of two countries from the aid fund, then we also accept a two-speed Europe or the exclusion of countries from the EU in general. ... Regardless of our personal views on the orientation of our Visegrád neighbours, we should support them in principle for pragmatic reasons. Today we're talking about a plan for 25, without Poland and Hungary. Next time it could be the Czech Republic we're talking about. That is not an appealing prospect.”