EU rebels Poland, Hungary show united front

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban criticised the EU's migration policy during a joint press conference on Wednesday (3 January). [Council]

Poland and Hungary are winning the battle against the EU over immigration, the two countries’ premiers said Wednesday, with Hungary’s Viktor Orban predicting “a year of great confrontations” with Brussels.

“The dial is turning in our direction,” Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in Budapest, showing a united front with Orban in his first bilateral trip since being appointed last month.

The European Union is taking Hungary, Poland and also the Czech Republic to court over their refusal to accept EU mandatory quotas for asylum-seekers decided by a majority of member states in 2015.

“Member states must decide who they what to let in,” Morawiecki said, adding that there were signs in recent elections in Europe that immigration is becoming “an even hotter potato”.

“In terms of migration and quotas that were to be imposed on (EU) member countries we strongly reject such an approach as it infringes on sovereign decisions of member states,” Morawiecki told a joint news conference after talks with Orban in Budapest.

Echoing that line, Orban said: “The EU’s migration policy… has failed.”

“We want to have a strong say, as these countries [in Central Europe] have a vision about the future of Europe,” added the Hungarian leader, who is expected to win a further four years in power in an election due in April.

Macron and Merkel give last warning to Poland

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will support the Commission if it decides to trigger Article 7 against Warsaw next week, the two told a joint press conference at the end of a two-day EU summit on Friday (15 December).

The vote in October in neighbouring Austria, that brought in a rightwing government hostile to immigration to power, showed that “Europe is a democratic continent”, agreed Orban.

“People that don’t want immigration elected a government that doesn’t want immigration either,” he said, referring to the win by Austria’s new Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

“This will happen (elsewhere) in Europe, it is only a matter of time… You can call it populism but what people want should happen,” he said.

Tensions with Brussels

But Brussels’s relations with Hungary and Poland’s nationalist governments have soured dramatically in other areas too, and Morawiecki’s visit was seen as confirmation of their growing solidarity.

Morawiecki, a former finance minister, said Central European countries would also present a common front in looming negotiations on the EU’s next seven-year budget that starts in 2021.

On 20 December, the European Commission launched unprecedented disciplinary proceedings against Poland over judicial reforms which Brussels says threaten the rule of law.

Poland’s government says the reforms are needed to combat corruption and overhaul the judicial system still haunted by the communist era.

Never before used against an EU member state, the proceedings could lead to the “nuclear option” of the suspension of Poland’s voting rights within the bloc.

However, any possible sanctions would need unanimous support of all EU members — apart from Poland — and Orban’s government has said Budapest will use its veto.

‘Attack on all’

Last month Orban said during a Hungarian radio interview that “if someone attacks Poland, they attack the whole of Central Europe”.

Brussels is however hoping the start of proceedings will have significant symbolic power.

The EU is also suing Hungary over Budapest’s crackdown on universities and civil society groups that receive foreign funding.

The legislation is seen as targeting Hungarian-born financier and philanthropist George Soros, who funds non-governmental organisations throughout central and eastern Europe.

In power with a sweeping majority since 2010, 54-year-old Orban is tipped to easily win a third consecutive term in office at a general election expected in April.

In a campaign letter to supporters Tuesday he said the vote would decide whether Hungary would remain “a country of Hungarians…or a country of immigration”.

Brussels triggers unprecedented action against Poland

European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans announced with a 04:13am tweet that the EU executive had activated Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty against Poland, due to “a risk of serious breach of of the rule of law”.