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Europe Bails Out Its Populists

Summary:
Following grueling negotiations over the European Union's budget and pandemic response, it is not surprising that much of the attention has focused on an historic agreement that will establish a proto-fiscal policy. Less surprising still is that the rule of law has once again received short shrift. WARSAW – As expected, the European Parliament has torn into the European Council’s recently agreed budget and pandemic-response package. The €1.8 trillion (.1 trillion) price tag and proposed cuts to development funding, including science and research, have predictably met with resistance. But the biggest stumbling block was always going to be the proposal to make EU funding conditional on respect for the rule of law.

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Following grueling negotiations over the European Union's budget and pandemic response, it is not surprising that much of the attention has focused on an historic agreement that will establish a proto-fiscal policy. Less surprising still is that the rule of law has once again received short shrift.

WARSAW – As expected, the European Parliament has torn into the European Council’s recently agreed budget and pandemic-response package. The €1.8 trillion ($2.1 trillion) price tag and proposed cuts to development funding, including science and research, have predictably met with resistance. But the biggest stumbling block was always going to be the proposal to make EU funding conditional on respect for the rule of law.

Arguing in support of such conditionality, Dacian Cioloş, the leader of the centrist Renew Europe group, claims that, “This is not aimed against Hungary nor against Poland or any other member state.” Rather, the point is to “ensure that European money no longer finances governments which continuously turn their backs on our fundamental values on a daily basis.”

But it is no secret that in both Hungary and Poland, EU funds are systematically used to finance political or private corruption and fund handouts to political cronies. The most recent example is the takeover of Hungary’s last independent news website, read by millions of Hungarians. Moreover, the governments led by Fidesz in Hungary and Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland are among the least inclined to show solidarity when it comes to accepting refugees or supporting the European Green Deal. Poland, for example, is the only EU member state that has refused to adopt a “net-zero carbon” target for 2050.

Instead of confronting these malefactors head-on, the European Council sought a compromise, delegating to the European Commission the task of creating a financial sanction mechanism to address violations of the rule of law. Whatever the Commission devises will then be subjected to a qualified-majority vote by member states.

The European Council’s compromise has met with no greater enthusiasm than in Hungary and Poland, where both governments dodged a bullet. In fact, it is difficult to describe the deal as a compromise at all, because each side claims to have agreed to something different.

According to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission is ready to introduce a clear and effective mechanism for punishing violations of the rule of law, and it expects to secure a qualified majority without a problem. By contrast, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki

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