The Rule of Law conditions attached to the COVID Recovery Fund – Hungary and Poland’s positions explained

In July EU leaders unanimously agreed to attach rule of law conditions to the €1.8 trillion seven-year budget as well as the €750 billion recovery fund aimed at measures for the novel coronavirus’ economic relief.[1]However, the funds have not yet left the EU’s pockets to go towards the Member States, because a political standstill has effectively come into being; Poland and Hungary both refuse to agree to the newly imposed conditions.[2] This article tries to go in depth about the issues surrounding Hungary and Poland’s unwillingness to abide to said attached conditions, as well as the reasons why the European Union wants to impose these conditions before allowing the Recovery Fund to be released.

Why did the European Union agree to attach rule-of-law conditions to the Recovery Fund?

According to Hungary, the attachment of the rules to the fund is a “persistence of the EU’s political ideals and ideological blackmailing towards Hungary”.[3] However, the European Union attached these conditions seemingly to “advance and develop EU values” by linking the rule of law with the disbursement of EU funds.[4]The move also came from the fact that the rule of law in European Union Member States is in a deep crisis, and it is definitely not a coincidence that Hungary and Poland are most angered by it, since they represent this crisis in full effect.[5]

The EU has tried to catch two birds with one stone, by including democratic values, human rights and the independence of the judiciary to something as topical as the recovery efforts for the ongoing pandemic. From a neutral standpoint, this seems like a genuine attempt at ensuring that core European Union values are respected not just once in accessing the EU, but rather continuously in every act that Member States have to make.

What is Poland and Hungary’s position in respect to these conditions?

The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has stated in multiple occasions that Hungary cannot accept these rules attached to the recovery funds, because he believes that “political rules on respecting the rule of law should be dealt with separately”.[6] He further took a blow at the European Union by taking a look at Brexit and riding the momentum that it created, saying that “the answer is those who have left, is on their own path, looking for their own solution, they can protect the health and lives of his citizens sooner that we who have stayed inside”.[7]

The Polish position has been less vocal, yet still in disagreement with the attachment of the rules. However, since Von der Leyen threatened to propose a new recovery fund without including the two countries in question (Poland and Hungary), a Polish deputy prime minister told reporters that Warsaw could potentially accept a ‘binding’ declaration.[8] In essence, the European Union threats turned out to be at least in part successful in turning one of the two countries around.

What now?

Since the budget and recovery fund agreement in July, a political standstill has effectively paralysed the EU’s efforts. On the one hand, countries that had no problem abiding to the rule of law did not seem to make a fuss about it, while Hungary and Poland certainly did. What is seems from a neutral point of view, is what could probably be described as a political game: Hungary has been very vocal about it and has tried to ride the Brexit wave to undermine the European Union at the very least to its citizens, while Poland has been rather quiet, yet incurred in a media storm about new laws on abortion.[9]

The latest declaration by the Polish deputy prime minister is, however, bringing some hope to the Member States and the EU.[10] In fact, the Prime Minister said Poland realised that a veto to the EU budget for 2021-2027 and the fund would hurt Poland and other EU countries financially.[11] A few questions remain, but it all seems to be down to Hungary now, and what move they will do next. If a couple months ago the standstill seemed to have no end, we might be able to start seeing light at the end of the tunnel.


[1] <https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20201104IPR90813/rule-of-law-conditionality-meps-strike-a-deal-with-council

[2] <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-budget-vetoes-commission-idUSKBN285155>

[3] <https://www.euronews.com/2020/11/05/deal-reached-to-link-eu-funding-to-respect-for-rule-of-law> (Hungary’s justice minister on her Facebook page)

[4] <https://www.euronews.com/2020/11/05/deal-reached-to-link-eu-funding-to-respect-for-rule-of-law>

[5] For a full explanation of the rule of law crisis, read more at: <https://yetkinreport.com/en/2020/11/19/crisis-in-the-eu-again-budget-versus-rule-of-law/>

[6] <https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1368214/Eu-news-hungary-poland-rule-of-law-eu-budget-2020-coronavirus-recovery-fund-viktor-orban>

[7] Ibid.

[8] <https://www.politico.eu/article/poland-eu-budget-compromise-jaroslaw-gowin-agreement/>

[9] Read more at: <https://edition.cnn.com/2020/10/22/europe/poland-abortion-fetal-defect-ruling-intl/index.html>

[10] <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-budget-poland-idUSKBN28D325>

[11] Ibid.