The V4 and its politicians continue to make waves at the European level, whether in extracting additional spending commitments or obtaining high-level positions. As the recent debate over enlargement shows, Central Europe will push for an EU that remains open to new entrants.
The first hurdle passed
The EU institutions and member states have agreed provisionally upon the Union’s budget for 2020, which presages a more protracted negotiation over the 2021-2017 Multiannual Financial Framework. Despite disagreements between negotiators of the European Parliament and the Council over the size of next year’s budget as well as some spending priorities, a compromise was found that will see a modest increase. The 2020 EU budget is set at €168.69 billion in commitments (money that can be agreed in contracts in a given year) and €153.57 billion in payment credits (money that will be paid out).
A larger slice of the 2020 budget is destined to go to investments for the protection of the environment and address climate change (21 per cent of the budget), while other measures are aimed at boosting growth, job creation and fostering convergence via the European Structural and Investment Funds. Almost half of the funds, 83.93 billion euros, are destined to make the EU economy more competitive.
The compromise reached between the institutions shows it is possible to agree on a budget that reflects the spending preferences of the majority of member states. Yet, the negotiations for the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) may prove to be an entirely different challenge. Earlier today, Ian Begg noted how the long-term budget “trilemma” could lead to a delayed agreement.
In such a scenario, the 2020 EU budget is crucial since it would be used as a point of reference for future spending as long as no compromise over the MFF is found.
The V4 and the wider “Friends of Cohesion” group already indicated their objection to any significant reduction in spending under the Cohesion Policy, while net contributors expressed a wish to limit their spending commitments. The agreement for the 2020 budget is a step in the right direction but a solution for the MFF is not yet within reach.
Tusk at the helm of the EPP
Yesterday, the party congress of the European People’s Party chose to appointment former Polish Prime Minister and outgoing President of the European Council Donald Tusk as its next party president. Tusk was the only candidate for the position and received 93 per cent of the votes. In his future role, Tusk will return to a more political function after having taken a more diplomatic role at the European Council, presiding over meetings of heads of state and government.
In his speech, Donald Tusk vowed to address more forcefully questions of civil liberties and the rule of law within the European People’s Party. “I deeply believe that only those who want and are able to give people a feeling of safety and security, preserving at the same time their freedoms and rights, have a mandate to run for power.”
His election risks making the position of Fidesz within the EPP more untenable than it already is.
While the party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán remains suspended, because of rule of law concerns, the new president of the EPP may seek a way to remove Fidesz from its ranks. However, in practice, Tusk does not have the power to decide on this, although he may shift the debate on internal and external threats to liberal democracy in Europe. Undoubtedly, the loss of Fidesz and its sizeable number of seats in the European Parliament also would rattle ranks within the EPP – the largest European political family.
A response to enlargement
After the European Council rejected the start of formal accession talks for Albania and North Macedonia, the Visegrad countries have kept a high profile in asking to reconsider the decision. Soon after the European Council gave a piece of negative advice, in part because of French intransigence, the prime ministers of the V4 made a joint statement to express their disappointment.
This week saw a new chapter in the ongoing enlargement debate, when Austria, Czechia, Italy, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia responded together to a French proposal to make changes to the EU accession process. While the six countries acknowledged imperfections in the enlargement procedures, they emphasised the importance to give a membership perspective to both Albania and North Macedonia.
The European Commission may be tasked with finding a compromise formula to revamp the EU accession process, with a clearer set of criteria and thresholds to be met during the negotiations, while keeping the door open for current and future candidates from the Western Balkans.
Although Hungary was not a signatory to the letter, signed by the three other V4 countries, it will have some influence over the future shape of the enlargement procedures. Earlier this week, Oliver Varhelyi was approved as commissioner-designated with the enlargement and neighbourhood portfolios, after he gave additional declarations to the responsible EP committee. While Varhelyi distanced himself from the Orbán-led government, doubts remain over his integrity and independence.