The German Chancellor called on EU countries to deepen talks about where the 27-nation bloc should be heading in order to mitigate and solve disputes such as the current row with Poland over the rule of law, after a two-day summit in Brussels last week.
But, according to EU expert Mujtaba Rahman, Mrs Merkel is starting a war of words with Northern European countries who are pushing the Commission to withhold EU recovery funds until Poland introduces a series of judicial reforms.
The northern bloc in the EU, led by the Netherlands, claim the Commission’s failure to show a tough stance and concrete punishment to Poland over rule of law breaches, would compromise the EU’s credibility.
Writing for Politico, Mr Rahman argued that if Mrs Merkel wins this battle, the Netherlands and their allies will vote against the Commission’s recommendation to issue funds to Warsaw.
Moreover, the head of Eurasia Group’s Europe practice argued that the outgoing German Chancellor’s softness could cost the bloc even less compliance in the future by countries like Hungary and Poland.
He wrote: “Merkel’s mealymouthed statements have already negatively impacted the incentives for Poland and Hungary to comply, and the result of her appeasement is, naturally, likely to be more defiance.
“On Thursday last week, Orbán insisted Hungary would resolutely ‘stand beside’ Poland.
“And as one senior Polish source says of the Polish President: ‘Kaczynski only heels when he has water up to his nostrils. He is Russian in that sense.’
“Although Merkel has barely a month left in office and is likely to be replaced by a government comprising the Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals, which will be much stronger on rule of law issues than she has been, senior EU officials caution that her weight and impact on the debate should not be discounted.
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Viktor Orban’s government, with its main ally Poland, has clashed with Brussels over media freedoms, rule of law issues and LGBT rights – while stating that Hungary’s interest is to remain a member of a strong European Union.
Last week, the Hungarian Prime Minister accused Brussels of trying to meddle in Hungarian politics and called on his supporters to defend the achievements of his nationalist government’s decade in power.
“Brussels speaks to us and treats us, along with the Poles, as if we were an enemy … well, it is time for them in Brussels to understand that even the communists could not defeat us,” Orban told cheering supporters, who were waving the national flag and held banners with slogans such as “Brussels equals dictatorship.”