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It has now been 20 years since the European Union announced that Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Malta, Slovakia, and Cyprus would join the EU.
The single largest expansion in the EU’s history, the ten countries came to be known as the A10, and, according to Brussels’ advocates, promised to mark a significant, positive shift in the direction of Europe’s future.
While the absorption went largely without trouble and opened up an entirely new labour market on the continent, niggling differences have surfaced in the years since. A divide between many of the newer intake and their western neighbours has materialised. Now, Express.co.uk looks at how some of the A10 countries contrast to the founding EU nations, and why this may be a serious problem for Brussels in the future.
Perhaps two of the biggest thorns in the EU’s side come in the form of long-time “friends” Hungary and Poland. Both have been criticised by the European Commision for failing to meet the EU’s values when it comes to rule of law — a significant aspect of the EU.
In fact, the rule of law is one of the four main principles of the European Union, and was described by its highest court as “defining the very identity of the European Union as a legal order”.
In February this year, the European Court of Justice ruled that both Hungary and Poland could lose their EU funding if they fail to comply, given that both have been accused of democratic backsliding in recent years.
Flexing the extent of its control over its members, the Commission then recommended that €7.5billion (£6.44billion) of EU funds be withheld from Hungary over rule of law concerns after Budapest failed to pass all 17 remedial measures it had committed to making.
While Hungary and Poland used to have each other’s backs, they have diverged over the war in Ukraine with the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán seemingly pro-Russia stance. He failed to both send military aid to Ukraine and struck up a new deal with the Kremlin to ensure Hungary can survive the winter.
It is thought that in order to pressure the Commission into releasing funds, Hungary refused to sign off on an €18billion (£15.46billion) EU aid package for Ukraine — the only one of the 27 EU states to do so.
Mr Orbán dismissed the accusation as “fake news” on Twitter on December 12, claiming Hungary is “ready” to give financial assistance on a “bilateral basis”. However, one EU official told CNBC: “[Hungary] will deny it, but they want to create leverage and are taking two files hostage.”
Now, the other 26 countries are attempting to send the additional funding to Ukraine by bypassing Hungary — a signal that the EU may well be splitting at the seams.
Czech Finance Minister Zbyněk Stanjura told a press conference on Tuesday: “We are doing our utmost to ensure the money can be disbursed at the beginning of January, our utmost, whether that’s plan A or plan B at whatever price, we have to do that.”
Mr Orbán has also caused further consternation by refusing to pass new tax rules across the EU.
Hungary is not alone in its seemingly pro-Russia stance. A survey conducted by MNFORCE and Seesame in September found that one-fifth of respondents in Slovakia wanted a clear victory for Russia, with more than 50 percent saying they were inclined towards a Putin win.
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These are fresh conflicts within the bloc. A separate issue that has inflamed debate at the heart of the EU is mass immigration: the union views immigration as based on “solidarity”, member countries bound by the free movement of people policy.
However, various leaders believe that their countries and the EU ideal is threatened by this very concept. Italy’s new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Mr Orbán, and now the Czech Republic’s pro-EU Interior Minister Vít Rakušan have all spoken out against immigration, while the likes of Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands overwhelmingly support it.
The Czech Republic has now extended temporary controls on its Slovakia border meaning that thousands of people are now trapped in Slovakia, as Hungary refuses to take those who have passed through its territory.
For now, with a war next door, a cost of living crisis, and a tenuous energy situation, the EU appears to be closer than ever. But as tensions over political differences and struggling economies build, and policy between nations diverges, the EU’s newest cohort may well prove to be its downfall.
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