Why this story matters:
Since the European Union expanded to include former communist states, it has worked to ameliorate economic differences between older and newer members through its cohesion policy.
But some member states, notably the illiberal right-wing governments of Poland and Hungary, have been exploiting EU funds without respecting the values that the union was meant to promote.
Therefore, funds out of the EU taxpayers’ pockets have been inadvertently aiding illiberalism instead of supporting the development of democracy in those countries.
In his article for Project Syndicate, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt explains how the EU could stop this precedence:
“(…) [T]he EU should introduce an objective procedure to monitor compliance and freeze funds when necessary. For example, if Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union is triggered against a member state for violations of the rule of law, all funds allocated to that country should be (…) redirected to support universities, research institutions, and other civil-society groups in that country.”
According to Verhofstadt, the redirection of funds to civil-society groups would help punish governments without punishing ordinary citizens. But we will see if the EU is ready to fight illiberalism through more than just criticism and warnings.
Details from the story:
- Under the 2014-2020 cohesion budget, Poland was the largest beneficiary (€77 billion), while Hungary was in fourth place with €22 billion.
- The breakdown of funds for the next cohesion budget (2021-27) is currently under discussion.
- Both governments are known for their authoritarian rule, as well as for targeting NGOs and independent media.
- The Hungarian government has been the subject of numerous investigations of the European Anti-Fraud Office, and remaining free media outlets allege that EU funds are used to benefit members of the government, their families and business associates.
- In late 2017, the European Commission recommended the invocation of Article 7 (an infringment procedure which could result in sanctions and the loss of voting rights) against the reforms of the Polish judiciary system regarded as undermining the EU rule-of-law.