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Will the German elections change the dynamics of the EU’s rule of law battle?

Soon to be former German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban during an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020.
Soon to be former German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban during an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. Copyright Olivier Hoslet/AP
Copyright Olivier Hoslet/AP
By Christopher PitchersSandor Zsiros
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Politicians in Central and Eastern Europe are apprehensive about the outcome of Germany's vote.


European Union issues have not been high on the campaign agenda in Germany, but the country's Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens have made clear that if either of them enters government, they will be more assertive on the bloc's rule of law problem.

For several years, Poland and Hungary have been subject to EU sanctions regimes for violating European values, with both being consistently attacked for what critics say are policies that erode democracy, limit media freedom, and discriminate against the LGBTI community.

When it comes to rule of law offences, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has, in many ways, been propped up by Germany's outgoing Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

For Timothy Garton Ash, a Professor of European Studies at Oxford University, this is certainly the case.

"If we ask why those values have been drastically eroded in Hungary, then the single European, West European politician, most responsible is Angela Merkel because she actually, as the German chancellor, had the power to stop it and she hasn't used that power," Garton Ash recently told Euronews.

For 17 years, the two leaders belonged to the same centre-right political family - the European People's Party (EPP).

But earlier this year, after a long and protracted battle over charges of democratic backsliding, Orban's Fidesz Party left the EPP.

Still, not much changed.

Brussels continued to "go easy" on Budapest and Warsaw for rule of law offences, albeit, getting tougher in recent weeks.

However, Sergey Lagodinsky, a Green MEP, says things will be different with a new German government.

"The fact that either the SPD or Greens will be part of the new government will change the dynamics. I think also that the Christian Democrats (CDU) with a new face will be more under pressure to be more active and more clear on that front," Lagodinsky told Euronews.

"At least, as representative of the German Green party, I can assure you that us [the Greens] being - hypothetically - part of the new government, we will definitely address this topic in a more assertive way."

Warsaw’s mayor, Rafał Kazimierz Trzaskowski, who belongs to the opposition Civic Platform party in Poland, had a different message though.

He wants the next Chancellor to remain patient when dealing with his country, even if the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party remains in power.

"I hope whoever wins in Germany will behave similarly and will be a staunch advocate of the rule of law and that they will want to keep the European Union as it is: a club of 27 member states," Trzaskowski told Euronews at the Budapest Forum.

"And I hope whichever party wins, it will not lose patience with the governments that are now ruling some of our countries because we need to do things together."

While Berlin and Brussels could put more pressure on populists in order to isolate them, the real change needs to come from within the offending countries themselves, according to Dr. Ellen Ueberschär, co-president of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

"Orban is isolated at the moment, I would say more than ever. And this process should go on. We should use the rule of law mechanism, we should go on with Article 7 and this together with the empowerment of the democratic forces...I mean the European Union cannot overthrow Orbán. This the Hungarians have to do," Ueberschär told Euronews.


While the breakup of the EU and battle for the rule of law were not headlines in the German election campaign, for Hungarians and Polish citizens – be it pro-government or opposition - the next power brokers in Germany could play a significant role in their fate.

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