2. Eastern approaches diverge the EU
BSSB.BE politico.eu 9/11/2018
Balkans Danube Europe
The formerly communist members of the EU club — from the Baltics in the north to Romania and Bulgaria at Europe’s edge — are diverging on big issues such as the rule of law and defence.
- Warsaw and Budapest have formed a mutual defence pact — with each vowing to veto any attempt to suspend the other’s EU voting rights under the bloc’s Article 7 disciplinary process.
- Prague and Bratislava refrain from saying they would do the same to defend their fellow Visegrad members, and instead urge talks to resolve the disputes with Brussels.
- For Slovakia, such a position is a chance to restore its reputation as the most EU-friendly Visegrad country, after the murder this year of journalist Ján Kuciak, who was investigating possible links between an Italian mafia clan, Slovakian politicians and the abuse of EU funds.
“The Slovak Republic is supporting a solution based on a constructive dialogue in [the] case of Hungary,” a spokesperson for the country’s foreign ministry said in an email. “The same applies also to Poland … We consider the sanctions as the very last option in case the dialogue fails.”
Demonstrators hold Polish and EU flags during the Freedom March in Warsaw | Janek Skarzynski/AFP via Getty Images
Similarly, the Czech government, despite sharing a critical stance with Warsaw and Budapest on EU-imposed refugee quotas, has shied away from publicly defending them on the rule of law. Prague says it hasn’t decided how it would vote if sanctions against either country are on the table.
“Such a position would be only adopted if there is a certainty of voting. We believe that the solution lies in dialogue,” said Czech State Secretary for European Affairs Aleš Chmelař.
Tomáš Petříček, the Czech Republic’s newly appointed foreign minister, has distanced Prague from Orbán’s vision of “illiberal democracy” and pledged not to shrink from criticizing other Visegrad group members. “Among partners and allies, it’s good practice not just to assure each other of mutual support but also to talk about things that we don’t just see as positive,” he told Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper last month.
Countries from a region that ’s highly dependent on EU funds for public investment share an interest in maintaining that flow of funds in the next long-term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).
Many are unhappy with the European Commission’s plans to slash the funds they get for cohesion projects — money devoted to regional development — in the 2021-2027 budget. Poland and Hungary, for example, face having cohesion funding cut by nearly a quarter. They generally also see eye-to-eye in opposing planned cuts to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
- Central and Eastern European countries “are united by the main principle, that cohesion and CAP are two policies foreseen in the EU treaty,” said Lithuania’s ambassador to the EU, Jovita Neliupšienė. “We can reform them, change them, but we cannot abandon them.”
- Differences have also emerged over the timeline for approving the new budget.
But the absence of political unity makes it harder for the region to get heard as effectively as it was in the last round. And even on individual files, Central and Eastern European countries have divergent priorities.
“There are several aspects of EU policies that are important to a limited number of countries,” Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs wrote in a note to POLITICO.“For [the] Baltic States it is the Rail Baltica project that will connect our region to the wider European Union,” he wrote, referring to a regional transport scheme.
There is no Central and Eastern Europe “group” in the MFF negotiation, Estonian Deputy Foreign Minister Matti Maasikas said.
“If anything, then there is a loose group of Friends of Cohesion, stretching from Estonia to Portugal,” he said in an email, noting that during the last budget negotiations, which took place between 2011 and 2013, there was also no united regional front but rather there was a “strong and broad” cohesion alliance led largely by then-Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
“There are differences between individual member states,” Maasikas added, noting that Estonia is quite happy with plans for the EU’s flagship science and research program, Horizon Europe, while most Central and Eastern European countries are not.
Size and speed
Most Central and Eastern European countries agree that the EU budget should be larger than the Commission’s proposed €1.14 trillion over seven years in order to safeguard cohesion and agriculture spending, as well as fund new priorities like security and defence.
But even here, one country has broken ranks. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš told POLITICO that the budget should be getting smaller, not bigger after the EU loses the U.K., a major net contributor.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš | Sean Gallup/Getty Images
“It’s unbelievable” that the Commission proposed larger costs for member states despite Brexit, he said on the sidelines of the October European Council summit, arguing that the EU budget should not finance defence programs.
Differences have also emerged over the timeline for approving the new budget.
Bulgaria and Romania are pushing for a deal before the European Parliament election. They stand to get more cohesion funding even under the Commission’s current plans so they have less incentive to hold out for a better deal.
And while they often attend conferences together with the Visegrad countries to discuss cohesion policy, they have teamed up not with fellow Eastern Europeans but with Greece, which also stands to gain more cohesion cash under the Commission’s blueprint, to draft a joint position on the next EU budget.
Other countries in the region, like Hungary and Poland, have indicated that they prefer an agreement under the next Parliament and Commission — which they believe could help them get a better deal.
“The current situation is a strange one, in which a body wants to push through budgetary target figures that it will not be affected by, and which it will not have the opportunity to implement,” Hungarian Finance Minister Mihály Varga told local media last month.
“I think it very probable that the new European Commission to be formed following the elections will draw up the new budget,” he said.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: politico.eu