Viktor Orban Loses Key Polish Ally Inside the EU’s Awkward Squad

It’s not just Poland’s nationalist leadership that’s been upset by a surprise election victory for the pro-European Union opposition.

(Bloomberg) — It’s not just Poland’s nationalist leadership that’s been upset by a surprise election victory for the pro-European Union opposition.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s self-described illiberal democracy is now suddenly more isolated than ever in the bloc as the fate of billion of euros in aid from Brussels hangs in the balance.  

Hungary and Poland have been challenging the EU’s values for years, from their opposition to migration to the politicization of the media and the courts. Orban has been the ideological ringleader, but Poland’s Law & Justice party, helming the EU’s sixth-largest economy, provided weight to the populist push — and veto powers that often gave Orban air cover.

Now the Hungarian-Polish alliance, already frayed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is poised to undergo a U-turn as former European Council President Donald Tusk is set to return as Polish premier. He has pledged to return Poland to the EU political mainstream, ending eight years of nationalist rule.

An opposition victory in Poland carries “incalculable consequences” for Hungary’s situation in the EU, Deputy Foreign Minister Levente Magyar said in an election watch program by the Mandiner weekly before polls closed. “Hungary will be left vulnerable.”

Tusk, who is deeply suspicious of Orban and his government’s ties to Russia, is bound to put distance between Poland and Hungary, according to a person familiar with the prime minister-in-waiting’s thinking. Tusk was instrumental in ousting Orban’s Fidesz party from the EU’s center-right group, the European People’s Party, at one point calling Orban’s politics “dangerous and morally unacceptable.”

The changing of the guard in Warsaw will leave Orban without a steadfast ally that had consistently shielded Hungary with the threat of a veto in the EU’s Article 7 rule-of-law procedure, a decision that needs to be taken unanimously and can end with the suspension of a member state’s voting rights in the bloc. The procedure against Hungary and Poland has dragged on for years, with each vowing to veto a decision to protect the other. 

Slovakia Question

The return to power this month of Orban ally Robert Fico in Slovakia carried “no guarantee” that Hungary will be able to count on its northern neighbor in the EU, Magyar said.

The biggest question is over the tens of billions of euros in funding that the EU has suspended for Hungary and Poland due to the erosion of the rule of law. While Poland’s new government will be expected to move quickly to pass legislation that will unlock its money, Hungary may find itself in a tougher predicament.

The forint rose 0.2% against the euro on Monday while the zloty strengthened more than 1%, leading emerging market gains as investors bet that Poland was moving closer to accessing those EU funds. 

The EU Commission is preparing to take a decision on whether to release Hungary’s funding in “weeks,” Vice President Vera Jourova told Radio Free Europe in an interview published on Friday.

“In Brussels, the hope is that if there’s a left-wing government” in Poland and “Hungary will be left alone and it will be easier for them to deal with us,” Orban told state radio on Sept. 29. The outcome of Poland’s election “will accelerate the decision on the fate of Hungarian money, one way or another.”

–With assistance from Marton Kasnyik.

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