BRUSSELS — European Union leaders made little progress during a teleconference Thursday in breaking a stalemate over a stimulus bill. Leaders confronted Hungary and Poland, whose vetoes of the package threaten to derail the plan to rescue the bloc’s economies.
The two countries broke ranks with their peers earlier this week and blocked the 750 billion euro (or $886 billion) stimulus bill, as well as the EU multi-annual budget, because of a provision linking EU funding to adherence to rule-of-law standards, such as maintaining an independent judiciary and providing transparency in spending of bloc funds.
Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, claimed the bill was a covert attempt by the EU to force Hungary to take in migrants, even though there is no connection between the standards and EU migration law. The Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, endorsed Orban’s position, calling the EU an “oligarchy” and comparing it to a communist regime in comments earlier this week.
The two countries found a single ally among the 25 other EU states: Janez Jansa, the prime minister of Slovenia, who defended his Eastern European peers and suggested that the EU drop the provision from the bill. But among the other 24 leaders, the ultimatum did not go down well. Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, dismissed the nations’ demands, calling the proposed rule-of-law mechanisms the “bare minimum.”
The leaders agreed that an in-person meeting would be necessary in order to resolve this last-minute hurdle to the crucial stimulus package, which had just been approved by the European Parliament and was on track for deployment in early 2021. Their next meeting is set for Dec. 10, but, as Europe battles a second wave of the pandemic, it isn’t yet clear whether conditions will allow them to gather in person.
If they cannot, the Polish and Hungarian vetoes could delay the distribution of stimulus money to the bloc’s members, many of whom are relying on it to fund programs to rescue their economies from the depths of a catastrophic recession.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.