Why Hungary and Poland are a major headache for Brussels – analysis

Hungary spokesman says ‘parental issues don’t belong in EU’

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Both countries have recently passed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, while Poland had effectively declared they do not accept the supremacy of EU law. While Brussels has responded with the threat of cutting off funding and legal action against the two countries, neither has prompted a change of course. But how could this dilemma end?

Brussels is likely to intensify pressure or use financial sanctions on Poland and Hungary, which could force them to back down.

These plans are already in action, with the approval of Poland and Hungary’s post-pandemic economic plans at risk, with the European Commission wanting concessions in order to give them access to billions in EU recovery funds.

However, both Governments have made battles with Brussels a core part of their political rationale, and it remains to be seen how much they would be willing to change course and risk losing support from voters.

Both countries are also facing upcoming elections, with Hungary heading to the polls in 2022, and Poland having parliamentary elections in 2023.

Any losses by currently ruling parties could mean tensions are diffused, as opposition parties are largely pro-EU, and have pledged a return to democratic norms.

A six-party coalition has come together in Hungary to defeat Viktor Orban, where is Poland ex European Council President and former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is heading up the European People’s Party.

A third option could see the powers locked in repeated spats with the EU, resulting in no real end-game.

Pro-democracy advocates are hopeful about a new mechanism which allows the EU to dash member funding given to EU countries if they violate the rule of law and the bloc’s financial interests.

But at this point, it is not yet clear whether this would place sufficient pressure on Governments to make fundamental changes in their policies, and could turn electorates even further away from supporting the EU.

French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the situation in Hungary, is pushing for the upcoming French presidency of the Council of the EU to pursue “recommendations” for Hungary.

This is a procedure under Article 7 of the EU treaties which allows four-fifths of member states to issue a warning to another member over rule-of-law concerns before pursuing sanctions.

While this could be a step to pushing Hungary in another direction, it could also push Mr Orban into an even more isolated role.

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The most dramatic course of action for either country could be a UK style break from the EU, although the chances of this are currently rather remote.

Electorates in both countries are largely pro EU as it currently stands, with a recent survey showing Poland and Hungary backing EU membership.

Only 39 percent of Hungarians believe their country would be better off without the EU, according to a recent Eurobarometer study, and Poland’s leader Morawiecki has said there is no intention to break away from the bloc.

Both countries have also benefitted immensely from EU funds, making it unlikely that the tide will turn with voters.

However, Poland could still become something of a thorn in the EU’s side, by still taking part in some mandatory parts of the membership while attempting to exclude itself from the bloc’s legal systems.

Such a move would pave the way for Poland to occupy a role as an associated country, such as Norway or Liechtenstein.

In Hungary, members of the governing party have mixed opinions on keeping their EU membership.

László Kövér, speaker of Hungary’s National Assembly and one of the founding members of Fidesz, said earlier in the summer if a Brexit style referendum took place now, he would vote against renewing its membership.

Finance minister Mihály Varga however said he would vote to remain in the EU, but acknowledged by 2030, when Hungary will likely be net payers to the bloc, the question could take on a new perspective.

While the population of Hungary is by and large pro-European Union, it’s not unlikely increasing Euroskeptic rhetoric could begin to pave the long road to a Brexit style decision being made to further Mr Orban’s interests.

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