As the UK very slowly sails off into the sunset, the race to be the EU’s leading rogue state is now a faceoff between Hungary and Poland, as the Commission toys with triggering its ‘nuclear option’: Article 7.
Barely 10 years after joining the EU, a Viktor Orbán-led Hungary realised Brussels was a convenient scapegoat for all its problems and set a trend of defying the bloc in order to protect its national interests.
Unlike the old member states, it did so with little grace or subtlety, its headstrong stand symbolised by the border fence it put up to keep refugees out.
But Poland caught up quickly. The ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) managed to alienate both Brussels and its own citizens in under two years.
But there’s a fundamental difference: unlike Orbán, the Poles made it clear they wanted to keep Russia at bay as much as possible, seeking refuge in NATO and trying to build good relations with the US.
And remember, PiS is affiliated with the relatively marginal European Conservatives and Reformists, while Orbán’s Fidesz is a part of the mighty EPP family.
Hungary has just about gotten away with its treatment of refugees, though the threat is still there. But Poland seems to be in too deep to escape unscathed.
Dismissing all criticism from abroad, the PiS has moved to quash all opposition at home and has sent in the police to keep popular protests in check more often than any other Polish government.
Moving quickly and relentlessly, this ‘new Poland’ has cornered Brussels and forced it to consider what was previously unthinkable: triggering Article 7 of the Treaty, known as ‘the nuclear option’, and reserved for serious violations of basic human rights and the rule of law.
It’s never been invoked before, probably because it brings rigorous sanctions against the offender, something the EU has always been keen to avoid, even at the risk of losing some of its credibility.
The sanctions may go as far as suspending Poland’s voting rights, a rough equivalent of suspending its full membership of the bloc.
That’s where comments made today by Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans come in: “We are coming very close to activating the article”.
Not to mention his ominous follow-up, in which he revealed that the College of Commissioners would make its decision next week.
Everything still depends on the fate of the controversial judicial reform bills Poland’s parliament is debating. Given the cold nature of ties with Brussels, the chances of a spectacular U-turn are slim.
And so, Poland is likely to get the dubious honour of becoming the first EU member punished for violating the most basic rules.
It remains to be seen if the sanctions, if approved, will make Orbán more cautious, or if they will anger and embolden him further.
British negotiators rejected the EU’s demand to come up with a specific proposal on the bill London would have to pay as part of its exit from the bloc. The UK is questioning its obligations in regards to every line in the EU’s trillion euro multiannual budget, sources close to the talks explained.
The second round of the Brexit talks held in Brussels will end tomorrow with progress made on all fronts, according to officials. Jorge Valero has the story.
Emmanuel Macron’s campaign promise to analyse and improve the CETA trade deal looks under threat. The deal starts on 21 September and Macron’s expert committee has only just got down to work.
Jean-Marie Le Pen faces prosecution for anti-Semitic comments… again.
Reports emerged yesterday of a previously undisclosed conversation between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin over dinner at the G20 in Hamburg. The White House said allegations of wrongdoing were “malicious and absurd”.
Damage to a German nuclear power station caused by fluctuating output proves that nuclear and renewables are not compatible, critics say. One of Germany’s regional ministers warned “atomic energy is not a bridging technology”.
Denmark, which has long been cutting its agriculture emissions faster than required by the EU, is unimpressed by new rules that could see it forced to up its efforts yet further. Copenhagen said it was “highly unfair”.
The European Investment bank has agreed to finance a raft of new transport, infrastructure and energy projects including a new Paris metro line, new motorways in Germany and district heating projects in France.
Macedonia has lashed out over suggestions it should adopt the acronym FYROM as its official name, saying it is as alien as the Klingon language from Star Trek.
Yesterday’s news that an intelligent security robot in a US shopping mall apparently chose to drown itself proves the age of the Internet of Things is not yet upon us. This is how European SMEs can lead the world when the IoT revolution does come.
Last chance to enter the caption competition and perhaps featured in the next edition of Tweets of the Week! Tweet us your best effort here.
Look out for…
EU High Representative Federica Mogherini will meet Croatia’s president and prime minister tomorrow. Chances are they will discuss Croatia’s border dispute with Slovenia.
Views are the author’s.
If you would like to subscribe to The Brief, please click here.