Hungary preparing plot to scupper Ursula von der Leyen’s €750bn coronavirus bailout

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Strongman prime minister Viktor Orban will use a parliamentary decree to strengthen his position when he travels to the Belgian capital on Friday for a crunch summit of EU leaders. Due to be approved today, the law would prevent him from approving the EU’s coronavirus bailout and its next seven-year budget unless the bloc drops its investigations into the rule of law in Hungary and Poland. Mr Orban is seeking to use the negotiations to silence his critics in Brussels, who often accuse him of flouting EU rules and showing disregard for democracy.

Pressure is building on the EU27 to reach an agreement as the bloc faces its worst recession since the Second World War.

European Council President Charles Michel last week unveiled plans for a cut-price budget but maintained the European Commission’s plans for a €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund.

Under Ursula von der Leyen’s blueprint, the bloc would hand out €500 billion in grants and €250 in loans to pandemic-stricken regions and industries.

Critics of the fund – including the “Frugal Four” of Sweden, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands – have called for strict political conditions attached to the distribution of cash.

Mr Orban has insisted he will scupper the negotiations if any string are attached as the price for access the fund.

“There will not be an economic restart, there will not be a budget, there will be drawn-out debates,” he aid.

The Hungarian leader added: “Let’s put this debate aside now.

“Let’s resolve the economic problems, start our economics, start creating jobs, then we continue the rule of law debates.”

Italy has signalled it could be willing to accept some political conditions attached to the fund after previously opposing the possibility.

“The European Council must take a decision that is coherent with the level of ambition of the commission and Franco-German proposals,” Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte.

“We must say ‘yes’ immediately to an instrument.”

After hosting the Italian leader at her Meseberg retreat, German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed the overall size of the €750 billion package.

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She insisted “it has to be something special and it can’t be dwarfed” in size during the negotiations.

The German, who holds the EU’s rotating presidency, will host Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez as she cracks the whip in a bid to smooth the path towards a deal.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, one of the main opponents to the recovery fund plans, has welcomed the promise of rebates of his country’s budget contributions.

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The concession was unveiled by Mr Michel last week in order to placate governments that have been opposing the proposals.

Mr Rutte hinted the move could have made a deal easier to achieve, adding: “The current proposal is better than the one in February.

“The rebate is an entry ticket for discussions.”

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