The European Council Summit in December was, to not put too fine a point on it, a failure. EU leaders could not agree on the mid-term review of the so-called Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), the EU’s long-term budget. The main problem? Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán blocking a proposal to send €50bn of EU funds in aid to Ukraine. 

The situation with Hungary has been an embarrassment for the EU for some time and is becoming increasingly untenable. Despite repeatedly championing itself as a bastion of human rights and social progress, the EU has long overlooked consistent backsliding on women’s rights, LGBTQI+ rights, and rule of law in its own backyard. 

Thursday’s European Parliament vote on the frozen funds and the situation in Hungary has shown that the overwhelming majority of MEPs do not support Fidesz’ autocratic leader’s attempt to block the progress of the long-term budget in order to gain leverage on releasing European Commission funds for Hungary. Whilst the Left amendment calling for the suspension of Hungary’s upcoming EU Council presidency was voted down, the final resolution expressed the possibility for legal and political action should the Commission release funds without Hungary meeting standards on protecting human rights and the rule of law. 

The polarisation of the Parliament and the Commission on the issue brings back uncomfortable questions about the democratic accountability of the European Union – ahead of the vote, commentators raised the fact that Ursula von der Leyen depended on the votes of Fidesz MEPs to claim the presidency of the Commission.

However, while Orbán and the Commission take the limelight, the rest of the budget review is flying under the radar. The Stability and Growth Pact is well behind what the Commission promised to deliver and will only bring about a return to ruinous austerity politics. The inflation caused by the greed of the rich and corporate superprofits is once again being passed onto those least able to bear the burden, and as always, in a crisis, the rich get richer. 

The Left proposed on several occasions that resources could be garnered for the EU budget by taxing the super-rich and multinationals, but these proposals were rejected on each occasion. Instead, countries will have to slash budget deficits through cuts to public services. To put it in real terms, a country like France will have to cut €22bn from the state budget – that’s the equivalent of 623,000 teachers’ salaries. 

Right now, we need investment in public services and decent wages for workers. At a time when people across Europe are struggling with the cost of living and the climate crisis, curbing states’ capacity to provide for their people is unforgivable – and a gift to the far-right. 

We won’t give up the fight for an economy that works for people, not the mega-rich. 

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