BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Hungary and Poland blocked on Monday the adoption of the 2021-2027 budget and recovery fund by European Union governments because the budget law included a clause which makes access to money conditional on respecting the rule of law.
Ambassadors of EU governments at a meeting in Brussels were to endorse a compromise reached on the 1.8 trillion package with the European Parliament, but could not do that because of the veto from Warsaw and Budapest.
The German EU presidency said ambassadors did vote through the link between EU money and the respect for the rule of law, because this vote required only a qualified majority and the opposition of Warsaw and Budapest could not stop it.
But when it came to voting on the 1.1 trillion euro budget itself and the 750 billion euro recovery package, which require unanimous support, “two EU member states expressed reservations” the presidency said.
The Polish and Hungarian veto will now be discussed at a meeting of EU European affairs ministers on Tuesday and then at a video-conference of EU leaders on Thursday. But finding a solution might take longer than that, officials said.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said it was an absolute necessity to link the distribution of European funds to rule of law standards in member states, especially when the sums to be handed out were so vast.
The nationalist governments in Budapest and Warsaw are against linking EU money and respect for the rule of law because they are under a formal EU process investigating them for undermining the independence of courts, media and non-governmental organisations.
If the link, introduced by EU leaders in July and strengthened by the European Parliament, remains, both countries risk losing access to tens of billions of euros in EU funds.
“Poland is counting on a rational approach of our partners and on working out rules which would allow to reach an agreement,” a Polish government spokesman said.
“We are open to constructive solutions, as long as they are in line with the European Council conclusions and EU treaties.”
Since without unanimous consent on the 1.8 trillion euro package no EU country can get its money, Warsaw and Budapest have strong leverage to pressure others to remove the link.
But a group of countries led by the Netherlands as well as the European Parliament wanted an even stronger link and have said they would not approve the budget without it.
The blockage means money for economic recovery for all EU countries from the recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be delayed. It was originally planned to start flowing from mid-2021.
“Denying the whole of Europe crisis funding in the worst crisis since decades is irresponsible,” Manfred Weber, who heads the biggest group in the European Parliament said on Twitter.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt in Berlin and Marcin Goclowski in Warsaw; Reporting by Jan Strupczewski)