Oct 18, 2021 - World

Poland showdown is EU's Jan. 6 moment, top official says

Didier Reynders. Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Poland and Hungary have forced a moment of reflection on the European Union — similar to the one in the U.S. after the Jan. 6 insurrection, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders told Axios.

What he's saying: "During many years, we have had in our minds that it was granted that if you are a member of the EU, of course you apply the rule of law; you have full respect for democracy, fundamental rights and so on — maybe with some concerns but with a real intention to adapt your legislation to be in full compliance [with EU law]," Reynders said.

  • "But it's not granted," he continued in Friday's interview. "Thus, Brussels must react strongly.
  • "We are determined to use the best efficient tools at our disposal to put pressure, but… we don’t have the same timeline as Twitter."

Driving the news: A ruling from Poland's constitutional tribunal — stacked with loyalists of the populist ruling party, Law and Justice — gave Polish law precedence over EU law in some cases, challenging one of the bloc's fundamental principles.

  • Hungary’s far-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has also repeatedly stuck his finger in the eye of Brussels while eroding his country’s democratic institutions.
  • Because the EU operates by consensus, each can block attempts to punish (or expel) the other.

Yes, but: The EU now has a new tool that ties COVID recovery funding to respect for the rule of law in member states.

  • Hungary and Poland are challenging that rule in the courts, recognizing that they stand to lose billions of euros.
  • Reynders said a decision on whether to trigger it will come soon.

Meanwhile, Orbán will face a united opposition for the first time in elections next spring after an unprecedented primary election made center-right mayor Peter Márki-Zay the consensus pick of all six major opposition parties.

  • And in Poland, tens of thousands of people gathered last weekend to demonstrate against the court’s ruling and in favor of the EU.
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