Monthly Archives: December 2020
Brexit negotiations continue as MEPs’ deadline to approve trade agreement passes
Brexit talks are set to continue on Monday after negotiations failed to reach an agreement over the weekend, passing the Sunday deadline set by the European Parliament for the UK and EU to agree on a trade deal.
In what were touted as last-ditch talks on the weekend, the two sides once again failed to reach consensus with the issue of fishing being the main stumbling block, just 11 days before the UK is set to crash out of the trading bloc without a trade deal.
“The talks remain difficult and important differences remain. We continue to explore all avenues to reach an agreement,” a British source said on Sunday evening.
A European source confirmed that they “expect” talks to resume on Monday, with neither side wanting to back down or end the talks.
MEPs had set a deadline of midnight on Sunday so that they would have enough time to study and ratify any agreed text, so it can come into law on January 1.
After hearing there was no agreement on Sunday, David McAllister, a German MEP who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee said “the European Parliament will not be in a position to grant consent to an agreement this year”, adding there will be a meeting tomorrow morning.
Britain’s parliament must also approve any deal. MPs are now on their Christmas break until January, although they can be called back on 48 hours’ notice to approve an agreement if one is struck.
An agreement reached at the 11th hour could still enter into force provisionally, with ratification by the European Parliament afterwards.
But according to several European sources, such a scenario is only technically possible if a compromise is reached before Christmas, otherwise a no-deal exit, at least for a few days, seems inevitable.
The UK has two monumental challenges on its plate
The UK’s lead negotiator David Frost met his European counterpart Michel Barnier on Sunday, as they continued to try to thrash out a deal ahead of the end of the transition period – 31 December at 23 pm GMT.
Otherwise, trade between the EU and London will be conducted under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, which mean tariffs and quotas, with serious consequences for the economy.
Meanwhile a host of the UK’s European neighbours banned travel from the country in the wake of the spread of a variant of coronavirus that is spreading rapidly across the UK.
The EU is planning a crisis meeting on the subject on Monday almost putting Brexit on the back burner.
Fishing for a deal
The issue of fishing, despite only accounting for a tiny fraction of GDP for the UK, has long been a symbolic issue for both sides.
For some EU members, such as France and the Netherlands, it is an important political and economic issue.
For the Brexit supporters in the UK, control of its waters symbolises regained British sovereignty.
Negotiations focus on the sharing of the approximately €650 million of products fished each year by the EU in British waters and the length of the adjustment period for European fishermen.
For the British, fisheries products in European waters account for around €110m.
Brussels is reportedly proposing to give up about 20 per cent of the €650 million after a 7-year transition period, with London claiming 60 per cent over a 3-year period, according to EU sources.
Beyond this transition, the EU wants to be able to tax certain British products, particularly fisheries products, to compensate for any losses to its fishermen.
On the other two difficult issues – how to settle disputes and safeguards against unfair competition – positions have moved closer together in the past week, although the debate remains open.
Europeans are calling for guarantees in London to protect their huge market from the risk of environmental, labour or tax dumping.
They also want to ensure that the UK will not subsidise its economy at all costs, a point on which both sides are struggling to reach a compromise.
(21. 12. 2020 via euronews.com)
Minority Safepack Initiative Garners Two-Thirds Majority Support in EP
On Thursday, the European Parliament supported by a large majority a resolution on the Minority SafePack based on the European Citizens’ Initiative that aims to protect the rights of indigenous minorities at the EU level.
Yesterday, the European Parliament, with broad support, called on the Commission to propose legal acts to protect minority languages ??and multilingualism.
In a resolution adopted with 524 votes in favor, 67 against, and 103 abstentions, the EP pointed out that national and linguistic minorities in the EU are facing assimilation and are losing their languages, resulting in linguistic and cultural impoverishment.
In the resolution of the initiative signed by more than one million EU citizens, MEPs acknowledged that member states are the ones responsible for protecting minorities’ rights, but stressed that they expect a common framework of minimum EU standards for the protection of minority rights.
They added that regional languages must be promoted, linguistic rights protected where more than one official language is in use, and language communities defended in accordance with fundamental rights.
The EP also expressed its concern about the alarming increase in hate crimes and hate speech against persons belonging to minority groups.
MEPs of the Fidesz-KDNP and Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) welcomed the resolution.
With today’s vote and Monday’s plenary debate, the European Parliament has given the strongest possible signal to the European Commission to initiate legislation based on the Minority SafePack proposals, the MEPs wrote in a statement.
They pointed out that so far, a total of six European Citizens’ Initiatives have been successful, including this one.
Loránt Vincze, the RMDSZ MEP and President of the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN) who submitted the resolution, said that “This is our common success. The initiative started in Transylvania by the RMDSZ and was unanimously supported by the Hungarian Parliament at the proposal of the Hungarian nationalities. This joint action has created a comprehensive national consensus on the issue at home and in Europe.”
According to Fidesz MEP Kinga Gál, Co-Chair of the EP Minority Working Group: “Real actions are finally needed on the part of the Commission to make the protection of European indigenous minorities as equal EU citizens a reality. Otherwise, the mere survival of these communities will be seriously jeopardized.”
(18. 12. 2020 via hungarytoday.hu)
Latest Kantar poll shows Law and Justice and the oppositional Civic Coalition in virtual tie. The ruling camp’s approval ratings are sinking
For the first time since the 2015 parliamentary election, opinion polls show the ruling Law and Justice party in virtual tie with the oppositional Civic Coalition, each with an approval rating of 25%. In a single month, half of Kaczyński’s youngest supporters have turned away from him.
The ruling camp’s approval ratings keep sinking. Since September, Jarosław Kaczyński’s party lost as much as 14 percentage points. For the first time since the 2015 parliamentary election, public support for Law and Justice drops to 25%.
Between December 6-12, the research company Kantar has asked Polish citizens about their voting preferences in the context of next parliamentary elections. For the government, it has been an especially tense period- the squabble around its threat to veto the EU budget, more protesters taking to the streets, acts of police brutality, and alarming COVID19 statistics.
Yet, the most noticeable drop in the ruling camp’s approval rating began in October, coinciding with the controversial decision of the Constitutional Tribunal to further restrict abortion laws. According to a survey Kantar conducted at the beginning of September, Law and Justice had an approval rating of 39%. A month later, it was 36%. In November, the number sank even lower- to 30%.
The pattern that emerges from looking at the statistics is clear: support for Law and Justice is waning because the party’s youngest supporters are turning away from it.
The numbers speak for themselves– in September, 39% of Law and Justice’s youngest constituents (aged 18-34) declared their support for the party, compared to 35% in October, and only 18% at the beginning of November. The same trend continues throughout December. It looks like young people started to turn away from Kaczynski’s party after the Constitutional Tribunal’s controversial ruling on October 22. On the other hand, Szymon Hołownia’s “Poland 2050” movement has only gained in popularity, especially among that particular age group.
Kantar’s December survey shows Law and Justice in virtual tie with the Civic Coalition- each of them with 25%. It is an unprecedented situation after Kaczynski’s victory in the 2015 parliamentary election.
Before that, polls showed the Civic Coalition nearing Law and Justice only twice: in the spring of 2017 (Law and Justice – 32%, Civic Coalition- 27%) and last spring (39% and 35%, respectively). A virtual tie, however, is unprecedented.
The head to head results, however, are primarily due to the sinking approval ratings of Law and Justice, and not the Civic Coalition’s growing popularity. The latter has seen similar approval rates all throughout autumn: 26% in September, 28% in October, and 24% in November.
With the support of 13% of all surveyed respondents (no change since last month), Hołownia’s movement is the third most popular entity in Polish politics. In October, polls showed “Poland 2050” with 9%, in September- with 11%.
8% percent of the potential voters would cast their ballot for the Left, 6% would vote for Confederation, and only 5% for the Polish People’s Party. With 2%, Kukiz’15 would be under the threshold. 16% remain undecided.
The Kantar poll has been conducted between December 4-9, 2020, on a representative sample of 987 full-age Polish citizens using the CAPI [Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing] method.
(16. 12. 2020 via wyborcza.pl)
Basis of relations with US will not change under Biden: Polish FM
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau has said the fundamentals of relations between Washington and Warsaw will not change when Joe Biden takes over as US president.
Rau was speaking after Biden won the state-by-state Electoral College vote that officially determines the US presidency.
Asked about what could be expected of Biden’s term in office, Rau predicted that American foreign policy would continue as under outgoing President Donald Trump.
“This is due to the simple fact that the foreign interests of the United States, regardless of who resides in the White House, are constant, and nothing changes here,” the Polish foreign minister added.
Rau said he was confident the US would continue to maintain troops in Poland, adding that from the American perspective “nobody and nothing” would be able to replace Poland on NATO’s eastern flank.
Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said last month that both Republican and Democratic politicians in the United States see “the importance of Poland’s strategic partnership” with their country.
His comments came after a new US Army headquarters began operating in Poland following its official launch in the western city of Poznań.
Meanwhile, Poland’s president on November 9 ratified a major military deal with the United States under which at least 1,000 extra American troops can be stationed in his country.
The deal had long been sought by Poland, a staunch US military ally fearful of Russia. Around 4,500 American troops are already stationed in Poland on a rotating basis.
(16. 12. 2020 via thenews.pl)
Purchase of Polska Press by state energy giant spells disaster for media freedom in Poland
A long-feared, Hungary-style takeover of independent media in Poland gathered pace this week as a state-controlled energy giant announced the acquisition of a media company with more than 20 regional dailies, 120 weekly magazines and 500 online portals across the country, the International Press Institute (IPI) warned today.
IPI said the purchase of Polska Press represented a worrying victory for the Law and Justice (PiS) party in its efforts to “repolonize” the country’s foreign-owned press and concentrate media in the hands of the government.
It also called on Brussels to recognize the continued and brazen attempts to run roughshod over EU values in bringing the media under greater government control.
On December 7, the state-controlled oil refiner and petrol retailer PKN Orlen announced that it would purchase 100% of the shares of Polska Press from German company Verlagsgruppe Passau for a reported PLN 120 million (€27 million).
As one of the country’s largest media companies and owner of 20 out of Poland’s 24 regional newspapers, Polska Press has long been a target of PiS’s plans to “repolonize” and “deconcentrate” the media landscape.
In recent years, the government has repeatedly sought to pass legislative changes which would have forced foreign owners to sell up and leave. However, these proposed laws were met with strong political and diplomatic pressure from the U.S and the EU, forcing the Ministry of Culture to shelve the plans and the government to look for alternatives.
IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said by now accomplishing the purchase of Polska Press without legislative changes, the government had engineered the takeover of a foreign media company without provoking another head-on collision with the EU at a time when relations were already strained, thereby quietly opening the door to the appointment of pro-government journalists and censorship of critical voices.
“This is repolonization by other means”, Griffen said. “The sale of Polska Press represents a major and historic setback for press freedom and pluralism in Poland and damaging blow for independent journalism, which had remained strong in the country despite great pressure.”
“In addition to numerous daily titles, the government now has unparalleled access to an average over 17 million monthly readers. While Orlen’s CEO may characterize this as a simple business investment, it appears clear that its true purpose is aiding PiS in nationalizing foreign press and bringing independent media to heel.
“In doing so Warsaw is emulating the tactics used by the government of Viktor Orbán in Hungary, where the government also mobilized state power and state resources to push foreign media owners out of the country, buy up independent media and flip the editorial line. The situation in Hungary today, where nearly all mainstream media are under government control, illustrates where this model of media capture can lead, and underscores the urgency with which Poland’s partners and allies in Brussels and Washington must push back and this effort to undermine press freedom and media pluralism.
“Unfortunately, if the government’s treatment of the public broadcaster in 2016 is anything to go by the editorial independence at these regional titles is likely to come under sustained pressure to tow the party line. In the worst-case scenario, many of these titles could end up the same as the public TV, propaganda machines of the ruling party.”
Media Freedom in Jeopardy
Griffen added that ironically the announcement came as Poland remains in a stalemate with the EU over Article 7 proceedings and the release of EU recovery funds. Warsaw and Budapest have threatened to veto the multiannual budget if funds are tied to respect for the rule of the law and media freedom.
“This purchase shows how high the stakes are”, Griffen added. “At precisely the same moment in which Poland and Hungary are fighting tooth-and-nail to block mechanisms intended to protect the rule of law in the EU, Poland is already busy undermining the rule of law and democratic norms further.”
While the deal still has to be approved by Poland’s competition authority, UOKiK, the body has been stacked with pro-government figures since 2015 and has been used to block and delay acquisitions from media companies considered “opponents” of PiS. If approved, the deal would likely be completed in early 2021.
Polska Press generated revenue worth 400 million zlotys (€90m) in 2019, Orlen said in a statement. Orlen itself is listed on the Warsaw stock exchange and its sales last year were worth 111bn zlotys (€25bn).
The government holds a controlling 27.5 per cent of the company’s stock and its CEO, Daniel Obajtek, was appointed by the government and is a supporter of PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczynski.
Under Obajtek’s leadership, Orlen has directed public advertising revenue away from media critical of the government towards those who favour Law and Justice.
This distortion of the market by Orlen and other state-owned companies have resulted in the formation of various right-wing media outlets springing up in recently years to reap the financial benefits.
The deal also hands Orlen control of six printing works across the country and greater control over distribution of newspapers. Last month the energy giant also completed the purchase of a 65% stake in newsstand operator Ruch, which has a network of 1,300 newspaper kiosks across the country, leading to concerns that media unfavoured by the government would be poorly displayed. Similar tactics were used in Orlen’s network of petrol stations after PiS were elected in 2015.
This statement by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.
(11. 12. 2020 via wyborcza.pl)
The EU’s rule of law budget deal saved Angela Merkel’s political legacy
The agreement reached at Thursday’s European Summit on the EU’s contested rule of law conditionality regulation put an end to the Hungarian-Polish blockade of the EU’s historic €1.8 trillion budget deal.
The deal is not only a Christmas gift for those – mostly Southern European – governments that have been desperately waiting for fast access to the EU’s corona recovery funds, but also for the German EU Council presidency and Chancellor Angela Merkel herself.
The reputation of German EU diplomacy and Merkel’s political legacy were both at stake: the first was threatened by a potential prolongation of the veto, while the second by further appeasement of Europe’s wannabe autocrats, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Poland’s Jarosław Kaczynski.
Since November, the Polish and Hungarian blockade obviously changed the political mood throughout Europe. The bloc of the EU25 remained surprisingly solid, while the determined position of the Netherlands, the Nordic countries, and the European Parliament pushed Berlin to give up its initial conciliatory approach toward Warsaw and Budapest.
This political shift, as well as the credible threat posed by a potential inter-governmental coronavirus recovery package excluding Poland and Hungary and the internal clashes in the Polish governing coalition, resulted in the de facto withdrawal of the two defeated illiberal governments on Tuesday.
Their main goal was either to get rid of the rule of law conditionality mechanism or to water it down significantly, but they failed spectacularly. The recent European Summit deal just put the icing on the cake, allowing Orbán and Morawiecki a retreat without losing face in their domestic arena.
The EUCO conclusion largely refrained from offering any substantial concessions to Poland or Hungary. The draft regulation will not be renegotiated. It will be passed in the Council and the European Parliament immediately, together with the other outstanding parts of the budget deal.
In practical terms, EU leaders only delay the application of the rule of law conditionality regulation and slightly narrowed down its scope. According to the language, the European Commission will develop and adopt a set of guidelines that will specify and elucidate the rules of the mechanism. However, as long as the guidelines are not published, the Commission will refrain from proposing any measures under the regulation.
Furthermore, if any member state decides to file an action for annulment request against the rule of conditionality mechanism before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the finalisation of the guidelines will be postponed until the CJEU decides whether the regulation is in line with European law.
Poland and Hungary will both file such a lawsuit for sure and with an eye on the ordinary lengths of CJEU procedures, this may result in further one or two unmolested years for Orbán and Kaczynski, covering also the period until Hungary’s next general elections in 2022.
That is unless one of the defendants in the case – the co-legislator European Parliament or a potentially intervening European Commission – decides to request an expedited procedure. If the CJEU approves the request, the concerns related to the suspension of the mechanism can be largely sorted out.
Although the language of the conclusion is largely restrictive, it does not imply anything that would have not been already stated in the text of the regulation. Obviously, EU leaders put heavy political pressure on the European Commission to follow this restrictive approach if the Guardian of the Treaties wishes to summon the qualified majority in the Council necessary to sanction deviating member states.
According to the leaders’ interpretation, breaches of the rule of law can only be sanctioned if the impact on the EU’s financial interest is sufficiently direct and duly established, which is largely in line with the regulation’s text.
Polish and Hungarian media leaked that alleged references to the mechanism’s non-application in case of sexual minorities and migration-related issues may also be part of the conclusion, but this scenario ultimately failed to materialise. It would have been a huge political gift for the Polish and Hungarian governments indeed, which could have been exploited in their domestic communication, but that embarrassment was dully avoided.
Overall, it is fair to say that the threat posed by the intergovernmental coronavirus recovery package worked spectacularly, bending the will of the Polish and Hungarian governments much sooner than anyone has realistically expected.
Inevitably, it is a lesson for all EU member states and institutions that they need to build up proper hard political and economic leverage when facing the challenge posed by autocratic member states, like contemporary Hungary and Poland.
Considering the trade-off between time, the urgent need to get access to the coronavirus recovery funds and substance, the deal represents a fairly well-balanced, realistic compromise which makes it much more likely that everyone can live with it. Although there will be critical voices from the European Parliament, no one can really consider blocking the budget package further. The deal is simply too good for that.
Although the deal is much more a result of the unswerving positions of the Netherlands and the European Parliament than the German presidency’s negotiation skills, the success is an extremely important face-saving measure for Berlin.
The start of the presidency was largely overshadowed by the inexplicably soft Council Presidency proposal on the rule of law conditionality mechanism that largely favoured Poland and Hungary. It was a strategic failure by Orbán and Morawiecki that they refused that language. Today, they left the playing field with much smaller gains.
However, the presidency’s proposal raised the suspicion that Merkel is ready to please the Central and Eastern Europeans in the rule of law debate practically at all costs.
The EUCO deal will not nullify Merkel’s decade-long support for Orbán. Due to her favour towards Hungary, she shares considerable responsibility in the EU’s recent institutional crisis. However, her political legacy won’t be tarnished by a final great act of appeasing EU autocrats.
Ironically enough, it happened under the German Council presidency that EU member states for the first time stood up together and drew the line in the sand for Merkel’s pet autocrat.
(13. 12. 2020 via euronews.com)
The class of 2021 POLITICO
Welcome to POLITICO’s annual ranking of the most powerful people in Europe. In addition to an overall No. 1, the list is divided into three categories — doers, disrupters and dreamers — each representing a different type of power.
The most important politicians from the V4 region are the followings:
Viktor Orbán THE EASTERN BLOCKADE
Joining the EU was supposed to make Eastern bloc countries embrace a new set of values. Instead, it’s the EU that’s been acceding to Viktor Orbán’s worldview. Having arguably won the argument on migration, the Hungarian prime minister has been busy creating a model for “illiberal democracy” while avoiding any real punishment from Brussels.
For the last decade Orbán, 57, has gotten away with it by combining what-aboutism with a two-steps-forward-one-step-back dismantling of his country’s democratic institutions. Sure, he occasionally gets dinged in court, but usually too late to make a difference. His country has been subjected to Article 7 proceedings, which could theoretically strip Hungary of voting rights in the EU. But an alliance with the nationalist government in Warsaw, which faces the same threat of sanctions, has protected him from punishment.
Orbán’s latest move has escalated his fight with the EU to a new level. He has joined Poland in a dangerous game of chicken, blocking the EU budget unless proposed rule-of-law requirements intended to bring him in line are removed. It’s a risky gambit: That budget includes the €750 billion pandemic stimulus, money EU governments are desperate to spend — including his own, though Orbán claims otherwise.
Orbán’s endgame is unclear. If he ultimately prevails in convincing national negotiators to strip the (already watered-down) rule-of-law language, national parliaments from more progressive countries may refuse to give their own needed signoff — so no one would get the money. The crisis-inducing impasse may finally motivate Western diplomats to figure out a workaround to bypass Orbán on a wide array of key decisions. That, then, could prompt the question: What’s the point of Hungary staying in the EU?
Jerzy Kwaśniewski THE PATRIARCH
When Polish women wanted to protest the country’s newly expanded abortion ban in October, they marched on the parliament, the governing party’s headquarters — and the offices of a conservative legal nonprofit.
The Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture is looking to secular institutions — be they in small Polish towns, Warsaw, Brussels or Geneva — to implement fundamentalist Catholic values. Its co-founder Jerzy Kwaśniewski wields civil law, not scripture, to roll back the clock on gender and sexuality.
Kwaśniewski, 37, and his team, who have deep links to Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), are responsible for the proliferation of the country’s “LGBT-free zones” (a characterization the foundation calls “fake news”), writing draft municipal codes and defending them in court. And in October, Ordo Iuris helped convince Poland’s top court to eliminate most of the remaining exceptions to Poland’s abortion ban, four years after its earlier idea for a prohibition that would imprison both women and doctors proved too conservative even for a PiS-controlled government. (It’s still too conservative, it turns out: Following protests not seen since the collapse of communism, the government delayed implementing the court order indefinitely.)
Now Ordo Iuris is going global. Backed by Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, it’s spearheading a push to block EU ratification of the Istanbul Convention against domestic violence and replace it with a “Family Rights” accord that would promote heterosexual marriages and traditional gender roles.
The group is also the most successful member of the ultra-conservative European legal alliance that pushed the failed One of Us citizens’ initiative to ban EU funds for research or public health activities that would destroy human embryos. Critics point to a network of hazy ties involving the Brazilian NGO Tradition, Family and Property and allege links to Moscow (which are sharply denied by the foundation), while Polish media have documented indirect state financing. Whoever the benefactors, Ordo Iuris is using the cash to train the next generation of traditionalist legal theorists: Plans to open a university to complement its student training and internship programs are well underway.
Zdeněk Hřib THE CITY LIGHT
Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib wants to make the Czech capital the shining city on a hill, a beacon of hope for liberals in a region sliding toward right-wing authoritarianism.
Inspired by former dissident-turned-president Václav Havel, Hřib has spent the past two years antagonizing not just domestic populists like Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, but also autocrats in Moscow and Beijing. His message to Brussels: If you want to fight illiberalism in Central and Eastern Europe, give me the cash to build my progressive oasis — i.e. cut out the national government middleman when it comes to EU funds. He’s part of the Czech Pirate Party, after all, a progressive, civil society-led group formed in 2009.
Even as powers like Germany ignore China’s human rights abuses, Hřib, 39, is putting his city’s economy on the line to take on Beijing. A doctor who did some of his medical training in Taiwan, Hřib was pushing back against the “One China” policy before the pandemic made it cool. He dumped Beijing as Prague’s sister city in favor of Taipei late last year, after feuding with the Chinese government over provocations like flying the Tibetan flag over City Hall.
Czech opposition leaders are now at the forefront of the European effort to win recognition for Taipei. China’s foreign minister warned of a “heavy price” as Senate President Miloš Vystrčil, joined by Hřib, prepared to visit Taiwan in September. Whether Beijing retaliates could be decisive for whether other governments follow the Czech lead.
Hřib has also angered Russia enough to generate rumors in April that Vladimir Putin wanted him poisoned. While that uproar has subsided, the pandemic has not. Yet Hřib is capitalizing on the lull in tourism to make Prague more sustainable, including a plan to end the city’s reputation as a stag party paradise and draw in more domestic visitors.
Johnson, von der Leyen agree to continue Brexit negotiations
Leaders had a ‘useful’ phone call in which they discussed the ‘major unresolved topics.’
Negotiations on a Brexit deal will continue, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after speaking Sunday.
In a joint statement, von der Leyen and Johnson said they had a “useful” phone call in which they discussed the “major unresolved topics” of the talks about the future relationship.
“Our negotiating teams have been working day and night over recent days,” the statement reads. “And despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations, despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over, we think it is responsible at this point to go the extra mile.”
Both leaders therefore asked their negotiators to continue the talks and to see “whether an agreement can even at this late stage be reached.”
Earlier, this week, von der Leyen and Johnson agreed at a working dinner in Brussels that negotiations would continue and a “firm decision” about the future of the talks should be taken by Sunday.
According to EU diplomats, both fisheries and the so-called level playing field to avoid unfair competition remain the sticking points in the negotiations.
(13. 12. 2020 via politico.eu)
‘Preliminary agreement’ reached over €1.8 trillion EU budget veto, says Poland
Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Wednesday that a preliminary agreement on the European budget had already been drafted.
Pressure has been mounting on Hungary and Poland over their blocking of the EU’s €1.8 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery fund.
“A preliminary agreement is already sketched,” he said at a joint press conference with his Czech counterpart Milos Zeman on Wednesday.
“The work and discussions are ongoing, this agreement is the result of very fierce efforts by the Polish and Hungarian parties, but also by the German presidency,” he added.
Both countries agreed to the financial package after a marathon summit this summer.
But they changed their position after MEPs pushed to insert a mechanism that would allow the EU to cut off funds to countries that don’t respect the bloc’s standards.
Now, with a crunch EU summit looming on Thursday, pressure is building on both Budapest and Warsaw to back down.
Radoslaw Sikorski, a Polish MEP with the centre-right European People´s Party group and a former foreign minister, told Euronews that he is glad his country is pulling away from the brink.
“It was absurd to veto a multi-annual budget because you [Poland] don’t want to be a law-abiding country… I don’t see what Poland has got out of it [the veto], because Poland’s interest is to be a law-abiding country,” he said.
“It wants to receive support from both the EU budget and the recovery fund,” he added.
Securing financial support is ‘critical’ says Germany
Germany currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. Its Europe minister said further delays to signing off on the fund would be irresponsible.
“The social and economic consequences of the crisis become more visible every day,” said Michael Roth. “It would be irresponsible to further delay essential support to our citizens. We need to rapidly unlock the financial support which is so critical for many member states.”
It comes as a senior European diplomat warned the other 25 EU countries will have no choice but to sideline the two rebel countries.
They can approve the €750 million pandemic recovery fund without Poland and Hungary, which forms part of the €1.8 trillion package. The €1.05 tr difference, which is the EU’s budget for the next seven years, needs the pair’s green light.
MEPs pushed for a mechanism to link EU cash to respect for the bloc’s values amid concerns Hungary and Poland are not in step with the rest of the continent on issues like media freedom and judicial independence.
But Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s foreign minister, rejected this idea on Tuesday. He said: “It’s difficult to interpret science fiction and to have a foreign affairs position from this. All I can say is that the Hungarian position is not new. The Hungarian position has not changed over the years. We reject linking the use of EU resources and common money to unknown and undefined political considerations.”
But both countries could end up paying a heavy price if they are left out of the pandemic recovery fund.
“It would mean serious isolation for both countries. And I think it’s not far-fetched to argue that it would result in significant domestic crises in both governments on the national stage because it would be very hard to argue why the national economy and even societies are deprived from this essential pot of money,” Dániel Hegedűs, an analyst at the German Marshall Fund, told Euronews.
(10. 12. 2020 via euronews.com)