The European Union (EU) is heading into the final stretch of an uncertain and difficult year marked by the crisis generated by the pandemic and with two major issues for its future still to be resolved: that Warsaw and Budapest accept that budgets are linked to the rule of law and the climax of Brexit.
All the elements seem ready on the European ground, already paid by the crisis, for what could be a “perfect storm”, whose storm clouds coming from the east (Hungary and Poland) and from the west (United Kingdom) have the challenge of clearing two German women: Chancellor Angela Merkel, as the EU president in turn, and the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, whoever was his defense minister.
Two capital issues that, if the ongoing negotiations do not remedy it, will come in one way or another to further recharge the last European Council of the year, scheduled for December 10 and 11, with already a very full agenda for the end of the German presidency.
Two versus twenty five
Although the coronavirus recovery fund and the EU’s long-term budget (2021-2027) of 1.8 trillion euros, greatly benefit Hungary (about 15 billion) and Poland (63 billion), the new provisions on respecting the rule of law for the receipt of this money agreed between the majority of countries and the European Parliament do not like the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, nor the Polish, Mateusz Morawiecki.
Their alliance was staged at a joint appearance on Thursday in Budapest: “Neither Poland nor Hungary will accept any proposal that the other considers unacceptable“they said.
Orbán and Morawiecki, who lead ultra-conservative and nationalist governments, maintain that the conditionality mechanism is not in line with the European treaties, that is arbitrary and politically motivated and could be used against any country.
In a telephone conversation on Friday Morawiecki told Merkel, who is leading the negotiation, that the “starting point” to lift the veto it must be “the sovereign right of European states to implement changes and reforms, as well as the letter and spirit of the treaties”, something that Warsaw – like Budapest – believes that the conditionality mechanism does not respect.
If you have doubts about its legality, Von der Leyen anticipated on Wednesday, who go to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), “the place where we usually resolve our legal differences, and not at the expense of millions of citizens” deprived of funds.
And it is that reopening treaties is even more ruled out today than modifying the mechanism that contemplates that payments to countries that violate democratic values if proposed by the Commission and supported by a qualified majority of countries.
“We have no intention in the European Commission to change the agreement, as it is certain that the European Parliament does not have it either, “Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders made clear on Friday and said that” possible options (for a solution) are on the table. ”
Options that, according to analysts, could dilute the rule of law mechanism in the implementation phase; suspend the sanctioning proceedings under way against Poland and Hungary for precisely falling back on democratic standards; or defend an intergovernmental treaty so that the recovery fund bypasses the vetoes of Poland and Hungary.
Neither is optimal, but a political or economic price will have to be paid forSo that the money reaches those who need it, they add.
Post Brexit agreement
Too we will have to be “creative”, according to Von der Leyen, to try to close once and for all the endless negotiations on the future trade agreement between the Twenty-Seven and the United Kingdom, to avoid further aggravating the economic outlook in Europe.
Time is running out and the London and Brussels narratives remain practically unchanged and stranded on the same three points: the guarantees to ensure fair competition between British and EU companies, fisheries and the mechanisms to resolve possible disputes over the future agreement.
This weekend the negotiating teams resume their face-to-face meetings in the British capital, and despite the stagnation in the community budget, EU is unlikely to back down on its single market protection red line to avoid a hard Brexit.
Joe Biden’s victory in the US elections and serious internal problems in the UK (mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis, concern about next year’s Scottish elections, internal troubles in the Tory ranks and a resurgent Labor) may move British Prime Minister Boris Johnson toward a deal.
If it were, and given the limited time left to ratify the agreement, it would perhaps have to be done only on the basis of a legal text in English (instead of having the 24 language versions available) to ensure that it is implemented before the January 1, 2021. The European Parliament has scheduled an emergency session for December 28 in order to ratify it.
Time is short and there are already countries that are getting worse and asking Brussels to publish contingency plans to protect sensitive sectors.or air and road transport of interruptions in case conversations fail.
Post-Brexit transition period ends on December 31 and, on January 1, the UK will have left the EU single market.