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EU CRACKS? Merkel’s exit and Biden pressure creates ‘complicated’ period ahead for bloc


The Biden administration has made clear strongmen leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Poland’s Andrzej Duda will not receive the indulgences they enjoyed from the Donald Trump White House and Ms Merkel’s autumn exit will see them lose another ally. Mr Orban’s ruling Fidesz party is also quitting the largest centre-right political group in the European Parliament after the faction moved towards suspending it over its democratic record.

Fidesz’s departure from the European People’s Party (EPP) group is likely to reduce Mr Orban’s influence in Brussels following a long conflict over his perceived backsliding on the rule of law and human rights.

Former European Council President Mr Tusk said Brussels might use the changes to take tougher action against Hungary and Poland and could even withhold financial payments.

Mr Tusk said: “The landscape after a change in Washington and with a prospect of change in Berlin is getting more complicated for the EU and especially for countries like Poland.

“The shift may imply less determination in Berlin to cooperate with eastern Europe along with a very principled US position on the rule of law and democracy.”

While Mr Biden should be welcomed across the EU’s east because of his more cautious stance on Russia and hopes for a greater pro-Ukraine push, he is facing uneasy relations with those leaders who grew close to and admired Mr Trump.

Mr Duda turned to Mr Trump for a last-minute boost when he sought re-election last summer and was showered with praise by the then President.

Mr Trump insisted Mr Duda was doing “a terrific job” and was a leader Poles think “the world of” before his 51 percent to 49 percent election win.

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Mr Orban’s government openly Mr Trump during last year’s US election and campaign and expects relations with Washington to cool under the Biden administration.

Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said Hungary was open to more cooperation with the US if Mr Biden was willing to show the country more “respect”.

Ms Merkel has also been a powerful advocate for the eastern member states despite their regular contraventions of EU law by putting courts, media, academics and non-governmental organisations under tighter government control and introducing anti-immigration policies.

The German leader grew up in communist East Germany and studied in Prague while it was still part of the Soviet bloc and is widely regarded as having the measure of the complexities and complications of the former Iron Curtain countries.

Mr Tusk said: “It’s not clear if Germany will continue to have the level of understanding and readiness for cooperation Merkel has had.

“The communist experience underlined her attempts to understand the eastern part of Europe, especially when it comes to relations between the EU and Russia.”

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Germany brokered a deal in December that gives the commission power to propose the suspension of budget payments to countries that undermine judicial independence and Hungary and Poland are subject to EU investigations.

But with Ms Merkel not standing in Germany’s autumn elections she will not be around to speak out on their behalf.

Czech deputy foreign minister Ales Chmelar said: “I’m afraid that part of the new post-Merkel leadership might have a stereotypical attitude towards our region, especially those who did not grow up in eastern Germany or were too young when the Berlin Wall fell.

“We do not have any other partner like Germany.”


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