Poland and Hungary have maneuvered themselves into a historic dead end, into an isolation that has never or seldom existed in the European Union. And they do it with a steadfastness and staged bravery that is not believable. Sure, there has always been a dispute in the EU, especially about money: Only in the summer there was the showdown of the “thrifty four” (Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Denmark); Even the Germans, with their penchant for austerity, have been on the alarm clock for a large part of Europe for years. And one of the devotional objects of European integration is a ladies handbag that was slammed on the table.
This dispute, however, is different, it goes deeper, it is more relentless – because it’s actually not about money, but about fundamentals. The money is only used as a lever, one could also say as a threat and for political blackmail: Hungary and Poland have been blocking their approval of a 1.8 trillion since mid-November. EUR heavy financial package, which consists of the budget for the next seven years and the Corona aid fund in the amount of 750 billion euros. The reason for this are plans by the EU to be able to reduce funds if the rule of law is violated.
Poland and Hungary, who have interfered in the separation of powers with so-called “judicial reforms” in the past few years, do not want to accept this. And they are isolated. In some countries in Eastern Europe they are reaping understanding, because Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has provided some kind of blueprint for democratic authoritarianism, how one can get a country under control bit by bit. However, these countries are standing still because the billions in aid are more important to them.
An interview that “Die Zeit” conducted with the Hungarian Prime Minister was remarkable. He would drop “political atomic bombs”, accused “Zeit” editor-in-chief Giovanni di Lorenzo. Orbán declined that it was only “hand grenades”. He refuses to link the question of the rule of law mechanism to finance. This is a “creeping change in the contract, a renegotiation”. And he justifies the whole thing, among other things, with the traumatic collective experiences under the yoke of the Soviet Union – there is a high level of sensitivity in the countries of Eastern Europe in the event of a dictation or attack from outside. A comparison that is so unheard of that it takes your breath away – as if the “united Europe” is only on paper.
Poland and Hungary pose as victims: They would rather stay upright and “independent” than take the billions from the EU Corona pot (which they have been doing for years from the regular EU budget without batting an eyelid – and also would continue).
What I found striking about the interview was that Orbán dated the actual break or alienation with Western Europe to 2015, i.e. the year of the refugee crisis: “We suddenly saw,” he said, “that someone wants to determine who is allowed to stay in Hungary – and it wasn’t us. What is more, it has come to the point where it has been said: Whoever lets migrants in is a constitutional state, and whoever does not is not a constitutional state. In 2015 it was said: Those who do not let migrants in should not receive any money. Is that the idea of equality? ”So the issue of money is not only associated with the rule of law, but also with the deeper rift, the fundamental differences on the issue of migration.
Just because Orbán argues unfairly, the problem cannot be brushed off the table so easily. Many social scientists and historians have come to the conclusion that even 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in Eastern Europe, collective experiences have led to different values in many places – which are ignited by ever new lines of conflict. It is not just about the aspect that a large part of the population does not want Muslim migrants. They do not keep up with the “enlightening” pace that quickly or not at all, which is particularly evident in the urban metropolises of the west, in which many things are equated, cleared, torn and marked with the symbolic star Middle: dot) is provided.
This conflict will persist, no matter how the dispute over money ends, and it will remain a rift and a wound in “united Europe”. If you complete the Corona aid pot without Poland and Hungary, which is an understandable way out, you certainly won’t solve this conflict. Because both countries then stand there like martyrs. Arm but upright.
The really tragic thing is that this conflict sparked off precisely because of the Corona aid package. Because the 750 billion euros are not just a gigantic pot, they are a “game changer”: for the first time, the European Union should appear as a separate player on the financial market and issue bonds itself. So it would be an upgrade and a qualification for the EU. And if there was anything good at all in this crisis within Europe, it was this new crisis instrument – it could be one of the most effective weapons in future crises. So a compromise would be better: building a bridge between Poland and Hungary without giving in, a solution that is face-saving for everyone.