Poland, Hungary Accuse EU of ‘Blackmail’ Over Pandemic Aid Delay
(Bloomberg) -- Poland and Hungary reacted with anger to comments from top European Union officials suggesting further delays are in store for post-pandemic aid to both countries because of concerns of whether they’re upholding the rule of law.
The eastern European nations are among a dwindling group of member states that have yet to receive approval for their plans to spend their shares of the bloc’s virus stimulus package. European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said this week the EU executive is seeking additional clarification from them about their compliance with the conditions of the aid.
Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni also suggested that a campaign by Poland’s government to have the country’s top court declare that the constitution overrides some EU laws is a factor that’s affecting the approval process. Poland stands to receive 23.9 billion euros ($28.4 billion) in grants and 34 billion euros in cheap loans from the stimulust package.
Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro called Gentiloni’s remarks “frivolous” on Thursday and said they amounted to “blackmail.” The country is faced with the alternative of either breaking its “constitutional principles” or it “won’t get the money,” he told reporters in Warsaw.
Poland’s nationalist government has for years been locked in a battle over its overhaul of the country’s the judiciary, which critics say is undermining court independence.
Donald Tusk, a former Polish premier and president of the European Council who now runs the country’s main opposition party, blamed the government for the delays and called on Twitter for the government to stop its “stupid war with the West.”
In Hungary’s case a potential delay in stimulus payouts is linked to concerns that changes to its court system don’t do enough to combat graft related to EU money. The EU’s executive has also started proceedings against the country over a law that’s seen as curtailing LGBTQ rights.
Hungary is sticking to its pandemic recovery plan proposal and won’t “cede ground” on the LGBTQ legislation, Justice Minister Judit Varga said in Alpbach, Austria on Thursday. “I think the Commission has to change its position because this is obviously the political blackmail category.”
While Hungary’s budget can probably manage with a delay in EU funding, the government in Warsaw is counting on the stimulus money to help boost the economy as its majority in parliament hangs by a thread.
“Both Hungary and Poland are in trench-warfare mode,” former European Commissioner Laszlo Andor said. “Poland may be more pragmatic, partly because the governing coalition may be more fragile and the political climate is different.”
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