by N. Peter Kramer
An historical agreement! With a budget of 1.800 billion euros and by linking that amount to respect for the rule of law, the EU will have unprecedented resources. ‘Now we can rebuild our economies. This recovery package will propel our green and digital transition’, tweeted European Council President Charles Michel. He did that after the 27 leaders agreed to the political statement on the sanction mechanism reached with Hungary and Poland by Angela Merkel, after consultation with Emmanuel Macron alone. That allowed Prime Ministers Victor Orban and Mateusz Morawiecki to drop their veto on the multi-annual budget and the corona recovery fund. It made the billions free, and wasn’t that most important?
Of course, to prevent the money from being wrongly spent, the EU will -also for the first time- have an instrument that allows member states to be punished financially if those billions are wasted due to poor rule of law. This can happen when a court does not engage in corruption investigations or if there is tampering with public procurement. Thanks to the compromise of Merkel and Hungary and Poland, a member state can delay a possible imposition of a sanction as long as the European Court of Justice is examining the procedure against the regulation that the two announced yesterday. Such a procedure might easily take a year and a half.
For the correct understanding, the new regulation does not mean that the EU now has means to counteract the erosion of the rule of law in the broad sense in Poland and Hungary. It does not include, for example, freedom of the media, measures that infringe the rights of the LGBIQ+ community or of NGO’s. The famous article 7 still serves these purposes, which theoretically can lead to suspension of the voting rights of a country, but which is proven to be unworkable due to the requirement of unanimity in the Council.
Being at her best, Merkel torpedoed, also after consulting Macron, a decision to impose sanctions on Turkey, against the will of a huge majority in the European Council. The list of names and sanctions was already diligently prepared. The German Chancellor chose to ‘spare’ President Recep Erdogan. A possible Turkish decision to re-open the borders with Greece could cause another stream of hundred thousands of refugees. Merkel’s strong belief is that no solid support among EU citizens exists for such a second stream.
Chancellor Merkel’s days are numbered. Who will be her successor? And will she or he make the same kind of ‘dreamteam’ with President Macron to rule the waves in the EU?