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It's a joke? Many in Hungary and Poland speak of EU withdrawal

17 years later, and as the EU intensifies its efforts to rein in democratic slippage in both countries, some right-wing populists in Hungary or Poland are now comparing the bloc with their Soviet oppressors and even flirting with the idea of leaving the trade bloc.

"Brussel sends us overlords that are supposed to bring Poland into order, on our knees," Marek Suski, a leading member from Poland's Law and Justice party said. He added that Poland would "fight the Brussels occupier" just as it did past Nazi and Soviet occupiers.

It is unclear whether this talk is a genuine desire to leave the 27-member bloc, or a negotiation tactic to counter the arm-twisting of Brussels. These two countries are the biggest net beneficiaries of EU funds, and most of their citizens wish to remain in the bloc.

However, the rhetoric has grown in recent months after the EU began to penalize members who fail to adhere to its democratic governance and rule of law standards.

The December regulation was approved by EU legislators. It ties access to EU funds to a country’s respect for the rule and law. This regulation is intended to target Hungary and Poland, close political allies who are often accused of undermining judicial independence and media freedom and curtailing the rights of minorities and migrants.

Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, called the so-called Rule of Law mechanism "a political & ideological weapon" that was designed to intimidate countries such as Hungary that refuse immigration. Mateusz Morawiecki from Poland, his Polish counterpart, described it as "a bad solution that could lead to Europe's disintegration in the future."

Over concerns that the spending plans of these two countries do not adequately protect against corruption and ensure judicial independence, the EU's executive committee has delayed payment of tens to billions of euro in post-pandemic recovery fund funds.

Interview with the AP: Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, in defiance, said that withholding EU funds would not force his country to change its course.

"We won't compromise on these matters because we are a sovereign nation. Szijjarto stated that no one, including the European Commission, should try to blackmail us about these policies.

The EU Commission tried to force Poland into compliance with European's highest court's rulings by recommending daily penalties in a long-running dispute about the country's judiciary system.

Ryszard Terlecki (deputy head of Poland's ruling party, ) said that Poland should "think about... how we can cooperate" with the EU, and look at "drastic options".

Terlecki later changed his mind.

Hungary's Orban repeatedly insists that there is "life outside the European Union." A Magyar Nemzet opinion piece last month said that it was time to discuss Huxit -- a Hungarian version Brexit. The U.K. left the EU last year.

Orban's critics worry that he might be considering this, as the finance minister suggested that Hungary may be better off in the EU.

Katalin Cseh is a liberal Hungarian EU lawmaker. She told The Associated Press that it was "outrageous” that Fidesz pundits and senior Fidesz politicians were "openly calling for" Hungary to leave the EU.

Cseh stated that "they stand ready to destroy one of the greatest achievements of our country's recent past history."

Daniel Hegedus, a German Marshall Fund fellow for Central Europe, believes that the Hungarian rhetoric could have been "politically calculated leverage" to counter the loss of EU funding.

He said, "(They are saying), If you don't give me the money, then it's even more difficult for us to be comfortable for you."

Recent surveys have shown that over 80% of Poles and Hungarians would like to remain in the EU.

Both governments seem to have felt the effects.

Orban stated last week that Hungary would be "among the last" EU members if it ceases to exist in a radio interview.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski (Poland's most powerful politician), stated last week that Poland's future lies in the EU, and that there will not be "Polexit".

Jacek Kucharczyk (political analyst, Institute of Public Affairs), a Warsaw-based thinktank, said that although Poland's ruling party is able to energize its nationalist base through its disputes with Brussels, the popular support for EU membership limits its options.

Kucharczyk stated that the result was a "kind of balancing act." "Tough words about EU and immediate and passionate denials that Poland wants to leave the Union."

Donald Tusk, a former EU top official and leader of the Polish opposition, warned against allowing anti-EU rhetoric grow out of control. This could lead to an unstoppable process.

Tusk stated that "Catastrophes such as Brexit or the possible withdrawal of Poland from EU are not always caused by someone planning it but because someone didn't know how to plan for it."

The EU battles can be used for domestic political purposes, with Orban's party facing difficult elections next year and Poland’s governing coalition under strains.

Hegedus stated that Hungary's anti-EU rhetoric was likely to be a "test balloon" to gauge public support and garner support for its ruling party before the elections.

He said, "I believe they are framing the whole issue very consciously in order to people will associate Europe with rather controversial issues that are dividing Hungarian society."

Some European leaders are already losing patience with both countries.

The Commission launched legal action against Hungary and Poland in July for what it considers to be a violation of LGBT rights.

After Hungary passed a law critics claimed targeted LGBT people in June, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte stated that Hungary had "no business" within the EU. suggested that Orban activates the mechanism that precipitated Brexit.

Huxit "clearly would be against the will of Hungarian residents, who remain staunchly Pro-EU," Cseh said, a member of the European Parliament. "And we will fight with all we have for our country's well-earned place within the European community.

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