Germany reaches compromise with Hungary and Poland

The dispute with the two Eastern European countries over the billions in Corona economic aid has apparently been resolved. The details will follow shortly.

Has had frequent quarrels with the rest of the EU in the recent past: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban

Dhe German EU Council Presidency reached an agreement with Poland and Hungary in the dispute over the link between the EU budget and the Corona development fund and the rule of law. “There is an agreement in the Warsaw-Berlin-Budapest triangle,” said Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin in Warsaw. The differences of opinion with the other EU member states have practically disappeared.

He is optimistic that Morawiecki will be able to negotiate a “good deal” on the budget issue during the EU summit this Thursday and Friday. This was not officially confirmed in Brussels at first. “We are still waiting for the final confirmation,” said an EU diplomat. However, Gowin’s statements were not denied or called premature.

A spokesman for the Polish government said a short time later that they were still waiting for the “okay” from the Netherlands and other skeptical member states. The other countries are to be informed of the details of the agreement by the German Council Presidency in the course of the afternoon. Diplomats emphasized that the European Parliament must also agree.

Migration and marriage

The German Council Presidency had given Poland and Hungary until Wednesday morning to send “clear signals” and to move away from the veto against the EUR 1.8 trillion Corona package. Otherwise “Plan B” would be initiated, threatened a high-ranking EU diplomat. The 25 other EU member states would have at least pushed ahead with the € 750 billion Corona reconstruction fund excluding Poland and Hungary. Otherwise, an emergency budget would have been in place from the beginning of January, which would have brought painful cuts in the area of ​​structural aid, not least for Poland and Hungary.

Which concessions Berlin made to the two veto countries remained initially unclear on Wednesday in detail. Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her government statement in the Bundestag that morning that the negotiated rule of law mechanism would remain.

According to information from the FAZ, the conversation included an assurance that the new instrument would not be used to persuade Hungary to take in migrants; Orbán had recently said that that was the real goal. The Polish government, in turn, could be assured that family law remains a matter for the member states, including the definition of marriage. Warsaw would then have a guarantee that the conflict with the European Commission over “LGBTIQ-free zones” would remain outside of the new mechanism. So far, the Commission has not even started infringement proceedings on this matter – because it is statements by mayors and regional presidents, not laws.

Waiting for the court

A third element could be the assurance of the member states that they will first wait to see how the European Court of Justice decides on a complaint by Poland and Hungary against the rule of law mechanism. Both governments believe that the mechanism is contrary to Article 7 of the EU Treaty. According to this article, sanctions can only be imposed if the Member States (with the exception of the country concerned) decide on them unanimously. In contrast, the new instrument provides for a qualified majority in budget law. However, this instrument is much narrower; a sufficiently clear connection between the rule of law deficits and budgetary management must be demonstrated.

It takes at least 12 to 18 months for the ECJ to decide on a lawsuit. No new proceedings would then be initiated during this period. EU diplomats said the proposal was on the table two weeks ago but was initially rejected. But he could be “back” again.

There may also be a “gentlemen’s agreement” that relates to the Article 7 proceedings that are already underway against Poland and Hungary. The next EU Council Presidency, Portugal, could start a vote here and end the proceedings de jure. Because in order to continue, at least 21 member states would have to establish that there is a “risk” that Poland and Hungary will seriously violate the rule of law.

Currently, only a dozen states from Western Europe would vote yes, while Eastern Europeans abstained. Budapest and Warsaw would then no longer be pilloried. When asked whether this is an acceptable compromise proposal for Poland to abandon the blockade, Prime Minister Morawiecki answered “Yes” in an interview with the FAZ last week.

The Council Presidency has already spared both countries another embarrassment. The next hearing on the rule of law should actually be in the Council on Tuesday – a year after the last hearing, at the time under the Finnish Presidency. Germany canceled that.

The official reason was that you need a face-to-face meeting instead of a video conference. In fact, they did not want to burden the compromise search with Budapest and Warsaw.

For the Commission and Parliament, the final conclusion of the procedures initiated by both institutions would be difficult to swallow. But all actors in Brussels are aware that they will lead to nirvana anyway. The link between money and law within the budget is seen as a sharper sword, even if sanctions are then only possible in connection with budget management.