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Europe’s Misconceived Cohesion

After a deal to convince Hungary and Poland to drop their veto threat against the European Union's budget and recovery fund, the EU can never again say that it does not negotiate with extortionists. Far from representing a breakthrough, the deal has in fact compromised the bloc's defining principles and long-term viability.

BUDAPEST – Some details of the midnight budget deal cooked up between German Chancellor Angela Merkel (on behalf of the European Union) and the Hungarian and Polish governments remain hidden. Nonetheless, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is celebrating a victory, whereas opposition parties cheer the EU’s newfound willingness to make its funding conditional on member countries’ respect for the rule of law.

But while Orbán’s critics see the enacted rule-of-law criterion as an appropriate measure against the patronal autocracy that he has established in Hungary, the fact is that the provision would have fallen far short of what is needed.

Like so many of the EU’s existing sanctions related to the misuse of state funding, the new mechanism punishes the victim, not the perpetrator, by threatening taxpayers’ money and public spending, rather than targeting the corrupt practices and personal wealth of Orbán and his cronies. Instead of addressing the question of personal liability, it treats the country as a collective actor. Even if some funding for Orbán’s corruption diminishes, those at the top who have benefited from corrupt schemes will retain the opportunities to keep doing so.