December in Central Europe: EU budget held hostage3 min read
December editorial. During the last couple of weeks, all eyes in Central Europe were on Poland. The mass protests against the new restrictions on abortions made headlines and filled Facebook profiles with supportive red lighting bolds which has become a symbol of the protests. While the protests we covered in our November articles continue, Polish politics has become a hot topic yet again. This time hand in hand with Hungary, causing many headaches in Brussels.
First, Poland and Hungary vetoed the EU’s budget and a coronavirus relief plan over a clause linking the funds to the rule of law and adherence to democratic standards. Although not surprising, as both countries have been under scrutiny for undermining the independence of the judiciary or press freedom, the veto is causing a strong European response as the relief plan is keenly awaited in many member states.
Although a mechanism that would oblige the countries to adhere to EU founding principles is long overdue, prime ministers Orbán and Morawiecki disagree. During a joint press conference, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán argued that linking the two issues is irresponsible as the current situation requires prompt decision making. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki went further by saying that the suggested mechanism is a threat to EU unity that might even lead to EU disintegration. Arguably, a threat to EU unity might actually be precisely rhetoric.
While there is a relatively wide consensus on the proposed conditionality, the partnership between Orbán and Morawiecki is openly backed by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša. This time there is no support from Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who is usually happy to back up Orbán´s rhetoric of national sovereignty, but who is currently heavily criticised for mishandling the pandemic and would benefit from an access to the relief fund.
In fact, Poland and Hungary seem to be determined to be worthy of the title of the EU’s troublemakers and have formed another alliance on the EU front. At the end of November, they blocked the newly introduced EU initiative Gender Action Plan III, which aims to promote gender equality, women’s empowerment and LGBT+ rights within the EU foreign policy. This event is a part of a long-standing battle, where both countries are opposing the use of the term gender equality while promoting the use of the phrase equality between men and women.
We can expect to see more headlines on the battle over the EU budget as the end of the year approaches and the need to finalise it intensifies. Hopefully we will know more after the next European Council meeting on 10 December. Will the need to protect democratic values in the EU prevail? Or will the urgency to launch the seven-year budget on time prompt EU diplomats to step back? In fact, the only question that might be worth asking is—who has the most to gain politically from this umpteenth battle between Brussels and Warsaw and Budapest on the other side? All bets are off, for better and for worse.