In Its Rule-of-Law Standoff With Hungary, the EU Just Blinked

In Its Rule-of-Law Standoff With Hungary, the EU Just Blinked
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban talks to journalists as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Oct. 21, 2021 (Pool photo by Olivier Hoslet via AP).

Senior officials in the European Commission and lawmakers in the European Parliament are seething at the national governments on the EU Council for what they view as caving to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban amid the EU’s long-running dispute with Budapest over the rule of law.

In 2020, EU leaders created a rule-of-law conditionality mechanism that allows the European Commission to take measures, including suspending payments from the EU budget, against member states that violate the rule-of-law principles enshrined in the union’s treaty. In recent years, the EU and Hungary have sparred repeatedly over Budapest’s erosion of democratic institutions like an independent judiciary and press, as well as over its failure to tackle systemic graft. The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly two weeks ago to approve a resolution calling on the commission to apply the mechanism after its members declared in a nonbinding resolution in September that Hungary is no longer a fully functioning democracy.

After dragging its feet for several weeks, the commission finally triggered the rule-of-law mechanism last week. Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the commission has sought to find a middle ground with Hungary amid its rule-of-law dispute, for fear that the standoff could derail EU unity and solidarity with Ukraine. In recent months, Budapest has delayed or blocked several EU priorities, including an aid package amounting to 18 billion euros for Ukraine allocated for 2023. Thus, EU lawmakers were pleasantly surprised when the commission announced that it will withhold a total of 13 billion euros of EU funds—roughly equivalent to one-fifth of Hungary’s annual budget—from Budapest. The funds include 5.8 billion euros from the EU’s coronavirus economic recovery fund created in 2020, and 7.5 billion euros in so-called cohesion funds intended to close the gap between richer and poorer member states.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.