Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban reiterated on December 4 that Budapest will not accept a clause on observing the rule of law attached to the European Union's budget and coronavirus-recovery fund, prompting Brussels to warn both Hungary and Poland that the bloc is ready to proceed without them.
Poland and Hungary are blocking about 1.8 trillion euros ($2.2 trillion) worth of EU funds, including some 750 billion euros due to be disbursed soon to help pull the 27-country bloc out of a double-dip recession caused by a second surge in coronavirus infections.
Both countries are under EU investigation for undermining the independence of the judiciary, media, and nongovernmental organizations, and risk losing access to tens of billions of euros because of the newly introduced rule-of-law clause.
Orban told public radio that an explanatory declaration attached to the regulations, which prompted a senior Polish government member to say Poland might accept the package, would be unacceptable to Budapest.
"For us this solution, attaching some statement like a reminder on a sticky note attached on a piece of paper, it won't work," Orban said. "Hungary insists that these two things should be separated."
Budapest and Warsaw have said they would act and vote together on the rule of law issue, and Orban said he would stick to that agreement.
He said there was no rush to get an agreement on the EU budget this year, adding if the EU does not have an agreement by January, it will have one later.
"Leave the legal status quo unchanged and everything will go smoothly and quickly," he said.
The block by Warsaw and Budapest will most likely significantly delay the adoption of the EU's 1.8-trillion-euro ($2.1-trillion) plan.
However, EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni warned the two countries that the EU is ready to "go on" without them if they do not drop their opposition.
"Of course we will not surrender to a veto, this should be very clear to Hungary and Poland, but I am still confident that we will overcome this veto," Gentiloni told the Rome Med 2020 conference on December 4.
"I think we are very clear towards these member states that we will go on without them, but I am confident that we will at the end make the agreement happen," he added.
On December 3, EU sources confirmed media reports that plans were under way to allow the other 25 member states to green-light the virus aid, circumventing the two countries' opposition.
Gentiloni said the fact that Germany, the EU's most powerful economy, currently holds the bloc's rotating presidency may be "a good advantage in looking for a solution."
The budget dispute is expected to dominate a December 10-11 EU summit in Brussels.