Brothers in Arms: Poland & Hungary Seek to Transform the EU

Written by | Thursday, November 15th, 2018

In the past two years, which EU member states have disappointed your country’s government most? ECFR put this question to EU policymakers and policy experts in all 28 member states in spring 2018, asking them to list up to five countries. The response was unambiguous: The United Kingdom, Hungary, and Poland had failed to meet respondents’ expectations or ambitions more than any other player in the EU. In the 2015 iteration of the survey, Poland was not among the three most disappointing member states, but Greece was. At the time, there was a liberal-conservative government in Warsaw and Athens was engaged in tense negotiations on its third financial assistance package.
Hungary received a disappointment vote share of between 10 percent and 25 percent from every other EU member state except Poland (4 percent) and Bulgaria (5 percent). Poland received a disappointment vote share in this range from 20 countries, and a share of between 4 percent and 8 percent from five others. Hungary and Croatia expressed no disappointment in Poland. The UK fared even worse, receiving a disappointment vote share of between 10 percent and 32 percent from 23 member states, and of between 3 percent and 6 percent from Lithuania, Greece, Hungary, and Malta.
With the UK exiting the EU, Hungary and Poland will remain the standout sources of disappointment for other member states. The three countries have never formed an especially close alliance: London has had a significantly stronger relationship with Warsaw than with Budapest, as seen in the survey’s finding that frustration with the UK is far more common among Polish policymakers and experts than their Hungarian counterparts.
However, ECFR’s data indicates that Warsaw and Budapest form one of the closest partnerships in the EU. In measures of intensity of contact, shared interests, and responsiveness, Polish and Hungarian policymakers and experts listed each other more often than anyone else. Both Poland and Hungary have an ambivalent attitude towards Germany, seeking contact with Berlin but seeing it as unresponsive and as sharing few interests with them.
Maintaining relations with Germany still seems to be considerably more important to Warsaw than to Budapest, but the country’s general focus on Poland has decreased significantly since 2016. France is seen as nothing but disappointing by Hungary and Poland: very few Polish and Hungarian respondents list Paris among their leading EU partners in intensity of contact, shared interests, or responsiveness.
The Poland-Hungary alliance largely focuses on eastern EU member states. The countries only look to the west in their one-sided attentiveness to Germany, and in Warsaw’s and Budapest’s interactions with London and Vienna respectively. Poland and Hungary mainly interact with the other two members of the Visegrád group, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Indeed, all members of the group concentrate on one another, albeit in a two-plus-two structure.

As such, the very close ties between Budapest and Warsaw parallel those between Prague and Bratislava. Furthermore, ECFR’s survey indicates that Bratislava and Prague are wary of being forced to accept the agenda and approach that Warsaw and Budapest pursue within the EU. Slovak policymakers and experts still see themselves as committed to deeper EU integration – as do, to a lesser extent, their Czech peers.
Therefore, the partnership between Poland and Hungary seems to be one of aspiration more than convergence. Despite their differing priorities, they need each other to defend the few positions on European integration they share, and to resist what they perceive as EU institutions’ and member states’ illegitimate interference in their internal affairs. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s de facto leader, would like the EU to be a community of sovereign states that share a common market. With the traditional champion of this view on the verge of leaving the EU, Hungary and Poland now see their bilateral ties as increasingly important.
‚Brothers in Arms: Poland and Hungary Seek to Transform the EU‘ – Commentary by Josef Janning – European Council on Foreign Relations / ECFR.

The Commentary can be downloaded here

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