Brussels’ plot to withhold budget and recovery funds from countries it deems as not playing by the rules has blown up in its face as the Hungarian PM vetoes schemes, putting EU projects in doubt and economies on the brink.
After failing to take him seriously, the Bullies of Brussels have been brutally humiliated by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Monday, after he followed through on his threat to veto the EU’s €1.8 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery fund.
In letters to the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, Orbán wrote that Hungary would veto all elements of the legal package for the budget and the Next Generation EU recovery and resilience facility, on the grounds that, “there is agreement on nothing as long as there is not agreement on everything.”
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The seven-year EU budget and the recovery fund require unanimity from bloc members if the billions and billions of Euros it promises are to be doled out across the continent. Orbán has effectively scuppered that ambition.
Those European countries with economies decimated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, who were greedily eyeing up their portions of the €750-billion rescue package, suddenly face an uncertain future. There will be shock and dismay as the realisation settles in that they now face the possibility of being left with nothing at all to help lick their economic wounds.
Orbán was furious at plans by the European Commission to link payments from the massive cash funds to an insistence that funding for member nations could be withheld where it was determined there were “breaches of the principles of the rule of law in a member state.”
Undeniably a strong authoritarian type – not everyone’s cup of tea – the Hungarian PM isn’t about to sit back and be told what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour in his own backyard, particularly when those doing the telling are unelected foreign Eurocrats sitting in plush offices in another country.
The idea of making fund payments conditional on a nation’s attitude towards Brussels wasn’t just rainbow-thinking by the Eurocrats, it was a move specifically aimed at forcing Orbán back into line, with the European commission irritated by Budapest’s interference with the judiciary, its meddling with media ownership and the PM’s ongoing spat with billionaire philanthropist George Soros and his Open Foundation.
Those in Brussels and the liberal set don’t much like Orbán and here was a chance to make him play by their rules.
While any onlooker can see how these problematic issues may be of concern, surely these are matters ultimately for the Hungarian people to work out themselves, without interference from a commission formed by members of Europe’s highly-privileged political establishment.
The fact that Brussels believes that financial penalties, rather than negotiation, compromise and diplomacy, provide the best method of determining how its role should be interpreted, shines a spotlight on the lack of creative thinking and a reluctance to learn any lessons from the past at the very top of Europe.
Remember Brexit, anyone?
Now, having had its nose rubbed in its interference in a very public way, the EU has to find a way out of this mess before other countries, Poland for starters, decide that they should follow suit and use Hungary’s playbook to express their discontent with the way Brussels runs things, simultaneously embarrassing their masters and denying the budget and recovery fund.
Before you know it, the whole plan to use the rule of law as the yardstick for funding will collapse in heap, projects across the continent relying on EU funding will be abandoned as the money dries up and any hope of providing help to shattered national economies so urgently needed will be gone.
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And for President von der Leyen, Charles Michel and the Brussels bullies looking for someone to blame, they’ll only have to cast a glance over the other faces on their Microsoft Teams call to identify the culprits.
As wily Viktor Orbán decides on his next move.
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