Warsaw, Budapest mayors criticise national leaders over ‘utter disregard’ for shared EU values

Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski - Agata Grzybowska /Bloomberg 
Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski – Agata Grzybowska /Bloomberg

The mayors of Warsaw and Budapest have sent a letter to the president of the European Commission lambasting their own national governments for demonstrating their “utter disregard for the core values” of the European Union by blocking its next budget.

The letter to Ursula von der Leyen, which also carries the signatures of other mayors from towns across Poland and Hungary, included a proposal to distribute funds to local municipalities rather than state governments if no compromise is reached in the weeks-old spat.

Poland and Hungary last month vetoed the upcoming seven-year EU budget, and an attached multi-billion euro pandemic recovery fund, because of a clause linking funding to respect for the rule of law. 

The clause is essentially about upholding democratic norms, such as an independent and properly functioning judicial system, and basic rights, such as freedom of press.  

Fears are widespread in Brussels that the two Central European governments are undermining the rule of law in their respective states. It was hoped the clause would force the two states to toe the line, but so far they have refused to budge on their veto.

Poland and Hungary’s stance has angered the big cities, many of which are controlled by opposition parties.

“The governments of Hungary and Poland have yet again showed their utter disregard for the core values of our union by rejecting the rule of law conditionality and thereby blocking the EU’s next long-term budget, including the allocation of badly needed Covid-19 recovery aid,” wrote Rafal Trzaskowski, mayor of Warsaw, and Gergely Karacsony, his Budapest counterpart.

They added that “the current crisis has painfully highlighted Europe’s decade-long untreated illness: democratic backsliding and authoritarianism in certain member states.”

If no compromise is reached, they said, then EU funding could be channelled directly to municipal authorities rather than the coffers of the state budget.

In response to the letter, Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek, the Polish foreign minister, said it was an attempt by the opposition to “weaken the government’s mandate and to complicate the situation as much as possible.” 

He also dismissed the idea that the EU would bypass state governments and give funding to local municipalities as “Rafal Trzaskowski’s dream.” 

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