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Merkel’s Last Chance

Summary:
Faced with the threat of a veto from the Polish and Hungarian governments, many in the EU are now counting on the German Chancellor to broker a deal to secure passage of the bloc's next seven-year budget and recovery fund. But given that the dispute involves fundamental European values, there should be nothing to negotiate. BERLIN – This week’s meeting of the European Council has rightly been called a “doomsday summit.” It is overshadowed not just by a ghastly winter wave of COVID-19 infections and the prospect of a chaotic no-deal Brexit, but also by a showdown with the governments of Hungary and Poland, which have taken hundreds of millions of people hostage by threatening to veto the European Union’s 2021-27 budget and the

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Faced with the threat of a veto from the Polish and Hungarian governments, many in the EU are now counting on the German Chancellor to broker a deal to secure passage of the bloc's next seven-year budget and recovery fund. But given that the dispute involves fundamental European values, there should be nothing to negotiate.

BERLIN – This week’s meeting of the European Council has rightly been called a “doomsday summit.” It is overshadowed not just by a ghastly winter wave of COVID-19 infections and the prospect of a chaotic no-deal Brexit, but also by a showdown with the governments of Hungary and Poland, which have taken hundreds of millions of people hostage by threatening to veto the European Union’s 2021-27 budget and the pandemic recovery fund.

Hungary and Poland are trying to block the enactment of a new “rule of law” mechanism that would prevent EU money from being siphoned off for corrupt purposes – a practice for which Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s kleptocratic regime is notorious. As the longest-serving head of government in the EU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stepped in to try to break the impasse, calling on “all sides” to prepare “to compromise to some extent.”

But why should the EU compromise on a fundamental value like the rule of law (which is enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty), and why should EU taxpayers consent to having their hard-earned euros enrich authoritarians and their cronies? Rather than trusting Merkel to broker a deal, Europeans should remind her that this is her last chance to prove that she really cares about democracy and the rule of law.

After all, it was Merkel’s own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, that enabled Orbán to create his autocracy in the first place. And it is her pick for the European Commission presidency, Ursula von der Leyen, who has failed to protect the independence of the Polish judiciary from the country’s chauvinistic, populist, and increasingly defiant Law and Justice (PiS) party government.

Europe’s simmering “rule-of-law crisis” has always seemed more abstract and less urgent than other challenges during Merkel’s long reign, which has spanned the euro...

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