The Brief – Brothers in arms?

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter

“Pole and Hungarian brothers be, good for fight and for glass” – that’s the famous proverb at the heart of Poland and Hungary’s friendship, which has connected the two countries for centuries. But is their venerable alliance coming to an end?

It was small wonder that from the very start of the rule of law spat with Brussels, the two brothers in arms backed each other, with the Article 7 sword of Damocles hanging over their neck.

But a widening crack in the Hungarian-Polish alliance is starting to look more and more visible, given the current lack of coherence in their geopolitical interests – especially when delving into shuttle diplomacy these days.

Hungary’s Viktor Orbán hopped a plane to Moscow today, eying a favourable Gazprom deal (a bilateral gas supply agreement expires in late 2019).

Hungary’s relations with Moscow have been boosted by nuclear deals, and now Budapest vocally argues for the lifting of international economic sanctions against Russia, apparently completely ignoring what is still going on in Ukraine.

But for Warsaw, Russia is the top security threat.

Polish President Duda flew in the opposite direction today to meet Trump for lunch to talk (also) energy projects, and military cooperation while his prime minister tries to fulfill the Polish dream of regional cooperation with life at the Three Seas Summit.

Poland has been extremely successful in lobbying Trump to get the US president to see Nord Stream 2 as his perfect enemy in Europe.

But if one goes to Washington and the other to Moscow, does this mean Poland is more ‘Western leaning’ than Hungary?

This might be, despite the recent disregard over core Western values. But what does “Western values” even mean these days?

Both countries are looking for partners in crime and they seem to have found their perfect counterparts: Trump and Putin, who both question the EU in one way or the other.

The close ties between Budapest and Moscow further destabilise the cracking unity of the Visegrád Group. For the Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians the “Russian problem” does not play a key role, for Warsaw it’s the mother of all battles.

In their common fight over the rule of law with Brussels, Poland and Hungary are being pushed in opposite directions – Warsaw toward Washington and Budapest toward Moscow.

But it makes sense, as Putin and Trump inevitably represent the same thing: Brussels’ worst enemies.

The Roundup

We are not under the rule of only one lingua franca, Jean-Claude Juncker insisted when delivering his Three Seas Summit speech in French, bucking the trend of other world leaders attending the event.

Brexit might bring an interesting side effect for the Brits: the need to learn more foreign languages. A government committee said special access for EU workers must end once the UK leaves the bloc.

The European Commission proposed a plan to sanction countries that break WTO rules, as part of fresh attempts to modernise the multilateral commerce body.

Poland was banned from the EU judicial body over its perceived lack of independence after controversial government reforms.

Russia’s possible return to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe would mean that even institutions created to defend European values are no longer able to do so, warns Volodymyr Yermolenko.

On the third anniversary of Dieselgate, the Commission announced that its anti-competition team is looking into BMW, Daimler and the VW group for allegedly manipulating emissions testing. EU ministers signed up to a ‘hydrogen initiative’ just days after the world’s first fuel cell train started service.

Can our farms function without pesticides? A new study insists the European agriculture sector can phase them out and still maintain food security.

Meanwhile, the rumoured and prospective Commission presidency candidates are not exactly sweeping us off our feet.

Look out for…

EU leaders gathering for the informal meeting in Austria with internal security, migration and Brexit as the main items on the agenda. However, clouds might be gathering over the Salzburg summit as Hungary’s PM vows to oppose the EU border-guard plan and Czech, Slovak premiers bristle at beefing up of Frontex.

Views are the author’s

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