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At the end of July, EU leaders finally struck a deal on a huge coronavirus recovery package after a fourth night of sometimes bitter talks. Much of the attention focused on the dispute over just how generous the EU’s fiscal package had to be, with the Frugal Four countries – the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark – pushing for a smaller deal, and one made up only of loans, rather than a mix of loans and grants. However, there was another battle in the negotiations that gained less attention.
The second row concerned whether or not to impose protections for the rule of law and human rights as a condition for benefiting from what ended up being a historic €750billion (£668billion) recovery plan.
When negotiations ended, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbàn, who had spearheaded the opposition to any conditions on the rule of law, declared a “huge victory,” since there were no specific good governance requirements in the agreement.
Nevertheless, he is now reportedly threatening not to ratify the fund until he gets reassurances that it won’t risk punishment over Hungary’s sliding democratic standards.
Budapest has informed its EU peers that the bloc must first agree on a rule-of-law clause attached to the aid’s disbursements before Hungary’s Parliament ratifies the package, according to an EU diplomat familiar with the matter.
Mr Orbàn wants the mechanism to be as weak as possible, minimising the risk of sanctions for offenders.
Hungary’s position was communicated to the European Parliament by representatives of the German presidency of the EU.
The latest twist highlights the risks ahead for the agreement between EU leaders, which was reached in July but left many key details to be worked out
Moreover, according to a Rutgers University–New Brunswick professor of political science who is an expert in European Union politics, the Hungarian Prime Minister’s threat could put the entire European project in jeopardy.
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He told Newswise: “The whole union is put at risk when the EU and Merkel’s European People’s Party (EPP), specifically, enables and emboldens an autocrat.
“Merkel’s party has defended Orbàn for a decade.
“It is karma in action when he threatens to block the pandemic recovery deal she saw as her EU legacy if the EU ties the funds to respect for rule of law.
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“Orban’s autocratic mafia state lives on EU funds and it is time to stand up to him and call his bluff.”
Mr Orbàn’s party, Fidesz, is part of the EPP – Europe’s largest political bloc.
One MEP told POLITICO about Hungary’s threat: “The situation is a difficult scenario where we need to work.”
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