Hungary's Orban backs Poland against Brussels
As the European Union piles pressure on Poland's new conservative government over concern of a democratic backslide, Warsaw found support from Hungary, whose leader Viktor Orban has long been a thorn in Brussels' side.
Since returning to power in October after eight years in opposition, Poland's Law and Justice (PiS) party has hastily pushed through a controversial media law and constitutional changes that critics say undermine the independence of two key foundations of democracy.
PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is neither premier or president but is believed to pull the strings behind the scenes, has praised the wily Orban, who since becoming Hungarian prime minister has systematically set out to undermine democratic checks and balances on his control.
Orban has been criticized in Brussels for a power grab that has curbed the press and judiciary.
Poland looks to Hungary
Now the EU and observers are concerned Poland could be taking a page from Hungary's playbook.
A visit by Orban to meet with Kaczynski on Wednesday was widely viewed in the Polish press as an opportunity for the PiS leader to learn how to resist pressure from the EU.
Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said that while he did not know what Orban and Kaczynski discussed, he would "like to learn from Hungary's experience in its dealings with the EU."
Next week the European Commission, the EU's executive body, is set to debate rule of law in Poland amid suggestions by some top officials that the bloc could impose punitive actions on Warsaw for its digressions.
Ahead of the meeting a European Commission envoy was in Warsaw on Friday to discuss Poland's reforms at the invitation of the government.
Hungary backs Poland against Brussels
However, any sanctions such as stripping Poland of its voting rights in the Commission appear to be going nowhere as Orban told Hungarian public radio on Friday he would veto any Europe-wide response to the deterioration of rule of law in Poland.
"The European Union should not think about applying any sort of sanctions against Poland, because that would require full unanimity and Hungary will never support any sort of sanctions against Poland," Orban told public radio in an interview.
However, this support may not prove necessary, given that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had said on Thursday that a bid to limit Poland's voting rights within the bloc was unlikely, despite Brussels' concerns.
Orban successfully battled criticism from his EU peers last year over his hard-line handling of the migrants, throwing up a fence and deploying security forces on the border to keep the influx out.
On Friday, Orban suggested a "European defense line" be built on the border of Greece in order to block migrants from heading up through the Balkans to Europe.
Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have formed a loose Central European axis against Brussels-imposed migration and refugee policy, in particular an EU plan to distribute refugees across the 28-member bloc.
cw/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)