The EU's Shameful Treatment of Poland and Hungary | Opinion

As the Russian army was mercilessly bombarding Mariupol and Kyiv earlier this month, the European Union adopted new sanctions against Russia. European heads of state and governments met to elaborate a common response to the worst menace they have faced since 1945. In the meantime, millions of refugees (mostly women and children) fled to neighboring countries—primarily to Poland, which has opened its doors to almost two million refugees, the equivalent of 5 percent of its population, while Hungary has welcomed an additional 282,000.

Yet the day after it announced a new round of sanctions on Russia, by a large majority, the European Parliament called for immediate financial sanctions against Poland and Hungary for alleged violations of the rule of law.

While the world holds its breath in the face of a possible world war, the members of the European Parliament found the time to demand financial sanctions against the two European countries most exposed—and those welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees. It was disheartening.

This vote reveals much about the EU's schizophrenia in light of Putin's aggression. The war marks the end of "the end of history" for Europe—a brutal awakening to dire geopolitics after decades of free riding on cheap energy (mostly from Russia) and free-of-charge defense under NATO's umbrella.

To be sure, the EU reacted quickly to Russia's invasion and, against all expectations, it rose to the occasion. By swiftly adopting unprecedented sanctions that suffocate Russia (but for which Europe will also pay a price), the European Union has shown that it is ready to stand on its own two feet and play hard power games. Russian aggression woke the old continent from its lethargy and led it to make more progress in two weeks than it had in 40 years, including on defense matters. Promising? Certainly, but we should remain cautious.

Although Putin underestimated European unity, we should not take it for granted. The European Parliament's vote to sanction Hungary and Poland shows how willing some Europeans are to stoke division even in the midst of a war. As in the United States, European elites are blinded by the cult of political correctness and willingly subordinate political priorities to dogmas and mantras that are as simplistic as they are harmful.

Ukrainian refugees in Poland
KRAKOW, POLAND - MARCH 14: People who fled the war in Ukraine wait to enter the “Wardrobe of Good”, an initiative offering free clothes created in collaboration with IKEA, Strabag and Diverse on March 14, 2022 in Krakow, Poland. The Former Plaza shopping mall, is now operating as a large “shop” with free clothes for people who fled the war in Ukraine and also operates as a temporary shelter for hundreds of refugees. Under an emergency plan, the European Union has decided that Ukrainian refugees will have the right to live and work in the Member states up to three years, in response to what is becoming Europe’s biggest refugee crisis this century. More than 2 million Ukrainians fleeing war have crossed into neighboring Poland since Russia began a large-scale armed invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Omar Marques/Getty Images

Who is spearheading wokeism in the EU? The European Parliament—an elected assembly with real legislative powers but largely unknown to European citizens, totally disconnected from their real concerns and hardly reflective of the political diversity of the continent. Over time, this supposedly representative assembly has come to think of itself as a zealous moral authority, even if that means interfering in areas in which the European Union does not have an ounce of a competence.

Europe's dogmatism largely explains the recurring conflicts between the EU and the two most openly conservative countries on the continent, Poland and Hungary. These two enfants terribles have the insolence to defend an alternative model and to oppose head-on, without apology, the dogmas that the Brussels intelligentsia seeks to impose upon them.

And they pay the price. Neither Hungary nor Poland received their share of the Recovery Fund—the EU initiative to relaunch the European economy after the pandemic. Moreover, Poland has been fined one million euros per day since October. Now they are also under the threat of "conditionality"—a new mechanism conditioning EU funds on compliance with its conception of the rule of law. Were this notion not overly politicized, it could be reasonable, but as it stands it leaves too much room for bureaucratic reinterpretation.

The European Court recently affirmed the legality of this "rule of law" mechanism, although its ruling also comes with a strict framework for triggering it. The European Commission, finally showing signs of discernment, appears ready to wait for a better time to trigger the mechanism. Such welcome prudence would doubtless face fierce resistance from the European MPs, who keep ignoring that Europe is at war and that Poland and Hungary are on the front line. The resolution calling for sanctions might not be the final episode of the Parliament's crusade.

How far will this frivolous exercise of virtue signaling go? Will war definitely close the chapter of European innocence, or will Europe jeopardize its internal cohesion on the altar of political correctness? The European Parliament's dogmatic attacks on Poland and Hungary are symptoms of the same mindset that led Europeans to condescend to the rest of the world on climate change and universal values, to close nuclear power plants and cut military expenses, all while the drums of war were rumbling. The emperor is naked—and the problem is that some prefer him to remain so.

History did not come to an end. On the contrary. And over time it will put the European Parliament in its place and reveal whether this resolution will merely be a source of shame—or also of infamy.

Rodrigo Ballester, former EU official, leads the Centre for European Studies at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Budapest.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.