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EU leaders can frame it however they like, but the legal mechanism adopted at the July summit linking the access to the bloc’s funds to the respect for the rule of law and other fundamental principles remains unchanged.

Threatening to veto the next long-term EU budget, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party found itself thrown back to the 2007 Lisbon Treaty negotiations. Back then, the late president Lech Kaczyński and his brother, the prime minister, insisted on changing the voting method in the Council but found themselves up against a wall rather quickly. The rest of the Union was ready to move on, even at the cost of leaving Poland behind. In the end, the Kaczyński brothers had to agree to a practically meaningless declaration annexed to the final treaty. Of course, after the summit, there was much talk about „hardcore negotiations” and self-congratulating boasts of great success.

Today, the only person allowed to feel truly successful is Victor Orbán, the man behind a corrupt system supported by oligarchs feeding on EU subsidies. If the solutions proposed in the pre-summit dialogues end up being implemented, Orbán’s cronies will get to milk the EU until the CJEU examines the mechanism, even two years from now. This gives Orbán enough time to get stronger before the next election.

Orbán probably wouldn’t have negotiated such a favorable deal if he acted on his own. But he managed to play his Polish allies off against each other, using the internal conflicts within the ruling right-wing coalition to his advantage. Last Monday, when the Polish media were flooded with statements like “veto or death”, it was Orbán who came to Warsaw to talk his Polish friends into a compromise with the German presidency and tried to tone down the mood. Without much effort, the Hungarian tail wagged the Polish dog.

But it most likely won’t be Hungary who’ll have to face all the resentment and enmity. It will be Poland, the fifth country in the European Union, expected to act accordingly to its size. By threatening to block the budget and the Recovery Fund, Poland has gone from a mere annoyance slowing the rest of the Union down, to as much as a threat to its very integrity.

There’s also another worrying aspect to the dispute over the Polish-Hungarian veto. For years, officials have been telling us that Poland leaving the European Union is not an option, polexit was taboo. But this has changed now: in recent weeks, key politicians of the ruling right-wing coalition have been talking about Poland with closed borders, restored tariffs, one that seeks help outside the Union. It is a terrible sign that Poland's drift towards European peripheries is accelerating.


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