Is it a bluff? Some in Hungary and Poland talk about withdrawing from the EU



BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – When Hungary and Poland joined the European Union in 2004, after decades of Communist rule, they thirsted for Western democratic standards and prosperity.

Yet 17 years later, as the EU ramps up efforts to curb democratic retreat in both countries, some of the right-wing populists in power in Hungary and Poland compare the bloc to their former Soviet oppressors – and flirt with the prospect of leaving the block.

“Brussels is sending us overlords who are supposed to bring Poland back to order, on its knees,” leading member of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, Marek Suski, said this month, adding that Poland “will fight l ‘occupant bruxellois’ as she fought. former Nazi and Soviet occupiers.

We do not know to what extent this kind of speech represents a real desire to leave the bloc of 27 members or a negotiation tactic to counter the embezzlement of Brussels. Both countries are the biggest net recipients of EU money and the vast majority of their citizens want to stay in the bloc.

Yet rhetoric has increased in recent months, after the EU resorted to financial sanctions for members who fail to live up to its standards of rule of law and democratic governance.

In December, EU lawmakers approved a regulation linking access to certain EU funds to a country’s compliance with the rule of law. This is seen as targeting Hungary and Poland – close political allies often accused of eroding judicial independence and media freedom, and restricting the rights of minorities and migrants.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban called the so-called rule of law mechanism “a political and ideological weapon” designed to blackmail countries like Hungary for rejecting immigration. His Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, called it “a bad solution which threatens a break-up of Europe in the future”.

The EU Executive Commission has also delayed the payment of tens of billions of euros in post-pandemic stimulus funds, fearing that the two countries’ spending plans do not adequately protect against corruption or guarantee judicial independence. .

In an interview with the PA on Thursday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto was defiant, insisting that withholding EU funds would not force his country to change course.

“We will not compromise on these issues because we are a sovereign nation. And no one, not even the European Commission, should blackmail us about these policies,” Szijjarto said.

This month the European Commission decided to force Poland comply with the rulings of the highest European court in recommending daily fines in a long-standing dispute over the country’s judicial system.

This prompted Ryszard Terlecki, deputy leader of the ruling party in Poland, to say that Poland “Should think about… to what extent we can cooperate” with the EU and consider “hard solutions”.

Terlecki later returned to his comments.

Hungarian Orban has repeatedly insisted that “there is life outside the European Union”. Last month an opinion piece in the daily Magyar Nemzet – a flagship newspaper allied with Orban’s Fidesz party – said “it’s time to talk about Huxit” – a Hungarian version of Brexit, the UK’s departure from the EU last year.

With the finance minister also suggesting that Hungary might be better off outside the EU, opponents of Orban fear he is actually considering this.

Katalin Cseh, a Hungarian liberal EU Member of Parliament, told The Associated Press it was “scandalous” that senior politicians and Fidesz experts “openly call for consideration” of Hungary’s exit from the EU .

“They are ready to destroy the greatest achievement in our country’s recent history,” Cseh said.

But Daniel Hegedus, central European researcher at the German Marshall Fund, said Hungarian rhetoric could be “politically calculated leverage” against the potential loss of EU funding.

“(They say) ‘If you don’t give us the money, then we can be even more uncomfortable for you,” “he said.

Recent surveys show that well over 80% of Poles and Hungarians want to stay in the EU.

This seems to have had an effect on both governments.

In a radio interview last week, Orban said Hungary “will be among the last countries in the EU, should it ever cease to exist”.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s most powerful politician, said last week that the country’s future lies in the EU and that there will be “no Polexit”.

Political analyst Jacek Kucharczyk, chairman of the Institute of Public Affairs, a Warsaw-based think tank, told the PA that while the ruling party in Poland reinvigorates its nationalist base with its feuds with Brussels, support popular with EU membership limits its options.

“The result is kind of a balance,” Kucharczyk said. “Harsh words about the EU and the immediate and vehement denials that they want Poland to leave the Union.”

But Polish opposition leader – and former senior EU official – Donald Tusk warned that letting anti-EU rhetoric get out of hand could unintentionally trigger an unstoppable process.

“Disasters like, for example, Brexit, or the possible exit of Poland from the EU, very often happen not because someone planned it, but because someone did not know how to plan a smart alternative, ”Tusk said.

With Orban’s party facing close elections next year and the ruling coalition in Poland showing tensions, battles with the EU can also serve purely national political ends.

Hungary’s anti-EU rhetoric is likely a ‘test ball’ for gauging public support for how far the government can push its conflicts with the bloc, Hegedus said, and for garnering support from the ruling party before. the elections.

“I think they define this whole issue very consciously so that people associate the European Union with some rather controversial issues that divide Hungarian society,” he said.

Some European leaders have already lost patience with the two countries.

In July, the Commission took legal action against Poland and Hungary for what it sees as a lack of respect for LGBT rights.

In June, after Hungary passed a law that critics said targeted LGBT people, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Hungary “had nothing to do” in the EU and suggested that Orban activates the mechanism. that precipitated Brexit.

Huxit would be “clearly against the will of Hungarian citizens, who remain firmly pro-EU,” said Cseh, Member of the European Parliament. “And we will fight for our country’s hard-won place in the European community with all we have.”


Gera reported from Warsaw, Poland.


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