A float featuring Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban and leader of Poland Jaroslaw Kaczynski Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

Will Defunding Hungary and Poland Backfire?

Since 2014, when the European Union last adopted its seven-year budget, the governments of Poland and Hungary have been captured by populists who have little regard for EU values and institutions. But while it stands to reason that the EU is considering a suspension of both governments' funding, whether it should do so is not straightforward.

BERLIN – Discussions surrounding the European Union’s 2021-2027 budget are intensifying, owing to many European policymakers’ insistence that regional development funds be disbursed only to member states that are in compliance with EU rules. Under the Copenhagen Criteria, all member states are required to uphold the institutions of liberal democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights, and protections for minorities.

The proposal to attach new conditions to EU funding is directed at the populist governments of Poland and Hungary. But while these governments have certainly shown contempt for EU institutions, while ignoring the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, they are too clever to defy EU rules outright. Most vexing of all, though, is the fact that Poland and Hungary are, respectively, the largest and fourth-largest beneficiaries of EU funds.

Those calling on the EU to “stop funding illiberalism” include prominent European figures such as Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE) in the European Parliament, and French President Emmanuel Macron. But among those opposed to more stringent conditions are not just the ruling parties in Poland and Hungary, but also those countries’ opposition parties.