Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends his Fidesz party campaign closing rally Laszlo Balogh/Getty Images

The EU Must Stop Funding Illiberalism

Every seven years, the European Union allocates funds to help newer, less economically developed member states catch up to the bloc's richer countries. But now that these funds are being abused by the governments of Poland and Hungary, it is time to ensure that they come with strings attached.

BRUSSELS – Since 2004, when the European Union was enlarged to include many of the former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, its regional funding mechanism has been heavily geared toward ameliorating economic inequalities between old and “new” member states. To ensure cohesion within the EU, overcoming disparities between countries and improving trade, transport, and communications infrastructure throughout the bloc have long been seen as critical.

The EU’s cohesion policy is in fact its most visible initiative. Investments made through the Cohesion Fund promote regional development, support innovation, improve education, and expand digitalization and transport networks, and sustain programs that improve the single market by boosting growth, productivity, and specialization. The cohesion policy benefits citizens, local communities, and businesses across the EU, but particularly in newer member states.

The Cohesion Fund’s next seven-year budget will run from 2020 to 2027, and the European Commission will offer proposals for how it should be allocated in early May. The negotiations over those proposals are expected to be fierce. For one thing, several new priorities have come to the fore in recent years, not least the need for stronger border protection, a system to manage migration, and more joint defense projects.