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Supporters of the European Union have been celebrating the results of the Polish election. The opposition won a majority of the vote and if the three parties successfully construct a coalition, Law and Justice (PiS) is out of power after 8 years of governing Poland. Donald Tusk who leads Civic Platform would likely become the Prime Minister of Poland and as a former President of the European Council, he is a staunch supporter of the EU. This could mean trouble for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. For years Hungary and Poland have antagonized the European Union together but now Hungary may be left on its own. This would indicate a significant shift in the power dynamics in the European Union.
Partners In Crime
Similar to Poland, Hungary’s government has been combative with the European Union as well. Most recently, both member states have clashed with the European Union over proposed legislation regarding distribution of asylum seekers in a potential migration crisis, similar to the one the bloc experienced in 2015. Hungarian Prime Minister Orban maintains that the legislation needs unanimous approval while the European Council insists the majority of EU member states need to be in favor of the proposed legislation. This resulted in the European Union removing a paragraph stating the bloc’s support for migration in an official communication regarding the summit the EU held in Granada, to avoid starting a major fight between the member states. It is unlikely that Civic Coalition and the other parties expected to form a ruling coalition would act in the same manner as the government under Law and Justice has, yet Civic Coalition may not be in favor either, as it attacked Law and Justice for governing over the largest wave of migration in Polish history, and suggesting to make it easier for migrants to come from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria and Pakistan, which would mean Muslim immigrants would be allowed in Poland.
Suspending Voting Rights
While considered a radical option, the European Union can use Article 7 to discipline a rogue member state. Article 7 allows for the suspension of voting rights of a EU member state in the Council of the EU. The problem however is that the two member states it would have used it against, Poland and Hungary, publicly supported each other and would block the mechanism from being enforced against the other nation. Article 7 states that member states must agree unanimously on a proposal created by a third of the member states that there is a “serious and persistent breach” of the values listed in Article 2 in the Treaty on the European Union. As the European Union must use Article 7 against a member state individually, this has enabled Poland and Hungary to protect one another. This can be expected to change however if Donald Tusk becomes Prime Minister of Poland. Unlike Law and Justice which was combative with the European Union, Donald Tusk while sharing several positions with Law and Justice wants to collaborate with the European Union to protect Poland’s national interests rather than be combative as Law and Justice has been the last eight years. It can be expected that Donald Tusk will reverse the positions that would make the European Union use Article 7 against Poland, including judicial reforms made by Law and Justice. Donald Tusk has already planned a trip to Brussels in an attempt to reassure the European Union that rule of law will not be a concern in Poland in order to unblock EU funds worth over 100 billion euros. The European Union has never used Article 7 to suspend voting rights of an EU member state.
Slovakia Potential New Ally
While Viktor Orban will no longer be able to rely on Poland, he may be able to turn to Slovakia. In the nation’s last election, a pro-Putin populist party won. Both nations could block unanimous approval required to use Article 7 of the treaty against either member state. On the other hand, both nations will need to search for support to oppose legislation that requires only a majority or qualified majority of member states to approve it. The two however can cause significant problems for any proposed future sanctions against Russia. Hungary itself held up the sixth round of sanctions for several weeks. Poland has been very supportive of Ukraine and does not want to maintain energy dependence on Russia, leaving Hungary alone. Slovakia however may work together with Hungary, weakening any actions the European Union can take against Russia. If the European Union were to attempt to use Article 7 regarding nations being pro-Russian, Hungary and Slovakia would be able to block any proposal from being unanimously approved against the other member state.
Poland is likely starting a new chapter in its national politics and likely will not defend Hungary for violating European Union legislation. Simultaneously it is expected Poland will right its wrongs as well under Donald Tusk. This leaves Viktor Orban vulnerable and may force him to modify his behavior as well, whether he wants to or not. As Poland is the EU’s fifth largest member state, it was an important partner for Hungary in order to fight against the European Union. Civic Platform can be expected to work with the European Union in order to try to achieve its political objectives. Slovakia may be a potential partner for Hungary regarding issues related to Putin due to the nation’s recent election.
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