Given the very reason for the existence of common European Union budget, the rule of law argument leveled against several Central and Eastern European countries shouldn’t even feature in the debate on how to allocate the resources.
We are right on the cusp of Thursday’s EU summit which – in a best-case scenario – may result in consensus regarding the broad outlines of distributing the budget resources among member states.
As was expected, stakes are high again before Thursday’s meeting, with individual member states’ positions still far apart.
At the same time, there is no great pressure for an immediate agreement either.
When discussing the hundreds and hundreds of billions of euros for the next seven years, every debate is both about prestige and representing the interests of one’s own country. The leaders of the affluent countries want to avoid their nations being seen as milking cows or morons, which essentially means that they want the burdens on their national economies to be minimized.
Because if they fail to do so, that will certainly have domestic policy repercussions in Berlin, the Hague, Stockholm, and Vienna—to name just a few of the more affluent capitals.
On the other hand, the heads of states of the so-called net beneficiaries (including Hungary, Poland and Romania) want to return home with as large a slice of the cake as possible.
And in order to achieve that, the latter group will sorely need the previous experience of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. After all, besides Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, he is one of only three leaders who were part of the previous budget discussion seven years ago.
This time, however, the powers that be in Brussels now have a different vision of where the money should be spent to better serve the future of the continent. They are advocating for digital highways instead of real highways, data mining instead of real mining, protecting migrants instead of protecting farmers, and climate protection to spare Greta Thunberg from the indignity of a two-degree temperature rise.
But there is also a second, much more insidious argument, namely that the distribution of EU funds should be linked to rule of law criteria.
The rich seem to think that the rule of law is being diminished in our part of the continent. They say that Hungary has an excessively centralized political system, Poland is threatening the independence of the judiciary, and Romania is way too corrupt.
First, this argument, is entirely arbitrary and second, it totally disregards both the region’s historic heritage and decades of oppression, while also portraying these payments as some sort of pittance.
This is not the case. The whole reason of the budget is to reduce inequalities – in other, words, foster cohesion.
Title image: Statue of the euro currency in front of the European Parliament in Brussels (source: Jordiferrer, Wikimedia Commons)