Budapest and Warsaw: Marriage of Convenience or Union of Values?


Bogdan Góralczyk

About Bogdan Góralczyk

Professor Bogdan Góralczyk is Director at the Centre for Europe, University of Warsaw, and a former Ambassador of Poland to Thailand, the Philippines and Republic of the Union of Myanmar, former Head of Cabinet of the Polish Foreign Minister and a long-term diplomat in Hungary; specialist in Hungarian and Asian (Chinese) affairs, prolific writer, author of many books and articles in Polish, English and Hungarian.

During the last summit meeting of the European Council in December 2017 the newly-elected Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki left the gathering ahead of schedule, asking his Hungarian counterpart Victor Orbán to sign the final documents on his behalf. Symbolic gesture or something deeper?

A few days after Morawiecki’s earlier departure from Brussels the European Commission launched sanctions procedures under article 7.1 of the European Treaty to evaluate controversial judicial reforms. This move didn’t stop Polish President Andrzej Duda from signing another two laws prepared by the Law and Justice (PiS) majority, both of which are disputed by the Commission, the European Parliament, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and even the US State Department. One of the laws substantially changes the role of the Supreme Court, while the other places the State Judicial Council, an independent body until now, in the hands of PiS.


According to Małgorzta Gersdorf, the Supreme Court’s first president, it is nothing other than a ‘coup’ against the judiciary, arranged by PiS supporters and not by all voters. However, Budapest has immediately announced that it will veto procedures triggered by the Commission. Is Mr Orbán our savior? Can we trust him? – ask the Polish opposition. Yes, we can count on him, answer PiS and its strong man, acting behind the scenes, Jarosław Kaczyński.

What is at stake here is nothing else than the rule of law itself and proper functioning the system of separation of powers. This is nothing new in a region where Mr Orbán, ruling with a constitutional majority since the spring of 2010 has in fact done the same thing, quarrelling with the European institutions abroad, and praising himself for ‘the fight for independence’ on the domestic scene. It is known that, according to his self-definition, Hungary under his rule is ‘an illiberal democracy’, which in the eyes of his opponents is nothing else than autocracy – of the prime minister himself and his supportive Civic Party —Fidesz.

For years we have had lively debate about what this ‘illiberal system’ actually means. Different terms are in use: ‘fake democracy’, ‘illusionary democracy’, ‘shadow democracy’, or stronger – autocracy, one-man rule, and state capture by a strong executive power with a charismatic leader.  Only one thing seems to be obvious and is shared by all: the newly created system is definitely not the liberal democracy introduced in Hungary in the early 1990s.

The Orbán System

We more or less know what are main features of ‘the Orbán System,’ are: strong executive power and its domination of the country; dismantled or strongly undermined checks and balances; deep divisions and fragmentation in the domestic arena and the centralisation of the economy and quickly growing domestic capital, creating a kind of new oligarchy, Russian-style.

More or less those are the values — centralisation of power and wealth – which Mr Kaczyński shares. That’s why he meets with Mr Orbán, and that’s why Mr Morawiecki has already announced that soon after his cabinet reshuffle (scheduled for early January) he will go to Budapest (for a blessing?). Are the think-tanks sponsored by both governments right when declaring the creation of a ‘Budapest – Warsaw axis’?

The European Union, its institutions, but also its major capitals, beginning with Berlin, have been asleep for far too long. Negligence is the name of their cardinal sin. Is Hungary and now Poland bringing about a new kind of challenge, an axiological crisis following previous economic, security, or migrant crises?

The Budapest-Warsaw axis is not a strong economic factor, but does represent a serious attempt to create a different entity within the framework of the EU, with different axiology and different values, and also – especially in the Hungarian case – with different interests, as Mr Orbán is openly promoting his strategy of opening to the East (keleti nyitás), both to Mr Putin in Russia (Paks atomic energy power station and new gas agreements) or to the Chinese (under 16 +1 and Belt and Road Initiative-BRI umbrella).

Is then a new line of division, unfortunately resembling the old one, between the East and the West, emerging on the European continent?  Well, partially yes.  The atmosphere in both Budapest and Warsaw is not liberal anymore. What will happen in the near future depends on the determination of the western side of the continent. Who will prevail: the non-liberal challengers from the East, or the defenders of the liberal values of the West? Like it or not the question is open, which means it is serious and we ought to take it into our account if we are still pretending to be (ever-closer?) Europeans.

A short footnote: As suspected, both the Polish prime minister and foreign minister will fly to Budapest to meet with Mr Orban on January 3.

The views expressed in this opinion editorial are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Emerging Europe’s editorial policy. 


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Romania’s Budget Deficit ‘Should Start Alarm Bells Ringing’

BUCHAREST ROMANIA - June 29 2017: Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose during a swearing-in ceremony at Cotroceni palace in Bucharest capital of Romania June 29 2017.

Serbia, Belarus and Ukraine Ranked Lowly by Wharton Business School

Kyiv Ukraine - April 172017: The postal square in Kiev on Podol the Dnipro river. view of the square from the river panorama

New Political Crisis Hits Moldova


Romania’s PM Resigns

BUCHAREST ROMANIA - June 29 2017: Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose during a swearing-in ceremony at Cotroceni palace in Bucharest capital of Romania June 29 2017.

Erste Group: Public Debt Falling Across CEE

erste group

Let’s Stop Wasting Time Redefining our Place in Europe

Putin Urges Belarus to End Oil Transit Through Lithuania

Athens Greece - May 27 2016: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers

Belarus Foreign Minister Hails Success of Visa-Free Travel Programme

Great noble deer surrounded by herd.Portrait of a deer, while looking at you.Adult deer with big beautiful horns on snowy field on forest background.

The Capital Markets Union: a New Beginning in the European Financial Sector?

Chinese Electric Car Maker Seeks Emerging Europe Base

zhi dou d2

Slowly, Tech Brand Belarus Emerges

belarus tech

TV Still a Star for CME

P&O Maritime Enters Ukrainian Market

Logistics and transportation of International Container Cargo ship and cargo plane in the ocean at twilight sky Freight Transportation Shipping

Kaczyński Defends PiS Record

Only a United Opposition Can Defeat Poland’s Ruling Law and Justice Party

Classical building of Polish parliament. Warsaw in Poland.

Effective Policies Have Strengthened the Georgian Economy

TBILISI GEORGIA Jul. 18 2017: Bridge of Peace is a bow-shaped pedestrian bridge a steel and glass construction over the Kura River in downtown Tbilisi capital of Georgia

Regional Relations in the Western Balkans: Moving Beyond Folklore

Bosnia and Herzegovina flag with Serbia flag, 3D rendering

Baltic States to Launch Combined Capital Market

capital markets

More Brexit Fears As the UK Proves To Be A Needed Member

City of London view from Waterloo Bridge. This view includes: St. Paul`s Cathedral The Gherkin Tower 42 and Blackfriars Bridge.

After 25 Years of Restructuring, the Romanian Power Sector Is at a Crossroad

Bucharest’s Stock Exchange Reports Growth; Eyes Emerging Market Status

bucharest stock exchange

Investors in Poland Unfazed By Article 7

Warsaw EBRD annual meeting

IMF: Institutions Key to Sustainable Growth


Polish Tax Laws — Fighting a Winning Battle Against Tax Evaders

Growing Rzeszów

Rynek Glowny in Rzeszow. Rzeszow Podkarpackie Poland.

Emerging Europe to Record Positive Growth Across the Board in 2018

coins growth

Czech PM Loses Confidence Vote

andrej Babiš

Poland to Switch from Emerging to Developed Market by September 2018

warsaw stock exchange

Not All Quiet on the Eastern Front

The Long Tail of Global Expansion

PE and VC Investment In CEE Is At an Eight-Year High

venture capital

How Did We Get Here?

Amazing Panorama to City of Plovdiv from nebet tepe hill, Bulgaria

Outsourcing in Germany: Stop Talking at and Start Talking to

Estonia Leading CEE Country in WEF Competitiveness Index

pharmaceutical factory woman worker operating production line at pharmacy industry manufacture factory

Ex-Banker to Become Poland’s Next Prime Minister

Romanian Transport Infrastructure Failures Pile Up

Cernavoda Romania - June 20 2012: Construction works at the A2 highway connecting Romania's capital Bucharest to Constanta.

Romanian Car Maker Dacia Sees Sales Boom

Sables d Olonne France - May 07 2017 : Dacia Tour 2017 is a commercial operation organized by the car builder in order to present its cars throughout France - Close-up on cars

Czech Republic Approves 2018 Budget

Ten czech crown coins money on black marble background

The EU’s Choice: Fundamental Reform Or Disintegration

Mobilising Private Sector Investment in Belarus, Moldova & Ukraine


IMF Urges Croatia to Speed Up Reform


Romania is Haemorrhaging Doctors

Friendly female doctor hands holding patient hand sitting at the desk for encouragement, empathy, cheering and support while medical examination. Bad news lessening, compassion, trust and ethics concept

Defending EU Values in Poland and Hungary

Eu hungary poland

China: A Giant That Is Hard to Crack

We, the Post-Communist Generation, Have the Skills to Rid of the Past And Create Our Own Future

Romanian Competition Council Approves OTP Purchase of Banca Romaneasca

BUDAPEST HUNGARY - JUNE 22 2014: People walk by OTP Bank in Budapest. OTP is the biggest commercial Hungarian bank with 1500 branches in 9 countries.

Growth Increase Offers Glimmer of Hope for Moldova


Serbia’s New PM Is Cut From a Familiar Cloth

Serbian flag emerging europe

Is there any prospect of ‘Polexit’?

poland european union polexit

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Moves from Frozen to Kinetic


A New Division Between Eastern And Western Europe?

EU Commissioner Launches Veiled Attack on Poland and Hungary

eu commission

Ukraine’s Finance Ministry Wants Urgent Tax Reform

Lithuania Handed Top Marks for Business Services

Beautiful panorama of Vilnius Old Town taken from Gediminas hill; Lithuania

GSA Names Ukraine as UK’s Offshoring Destination of the Year

map of ukraine emerging europe

The Right to Water: Who Can Change Today’s Situation?

GE Inaugurates Its New Bucharest Software Centre

Asian Outsource Developer Team Sitting At Desk Working Laptop Computer Mobile Application Software Real Office

China-Georgia FTA Takes Effect

TBILISI GEORGIA - SEPTEMBER 28: Top view of Tbilisi downtown Georgia on September 28 2016. Tbilisi is a capital and largest city of Georgia.

The Reality in Romania Exposes False Perceptions Of The Country

Warsaw Rising: The Polish Capital’s Skyline Gets Even Taller


ICT Given Huge Boost in Belarus

MINSK, BELARUS - AUGUST 15, 2016: Aerial view of the southwestern part of the Minsk with Palace of Sport and old and new other buildings. Minsk is the capital and largest city of Belarus.

Investigations Into the Corrupt Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Sectors

Ukrainian money hryvnia. The national currency. Corruption in Ukraine

The GREAT London Food Scene

Bakery in London

Despite Public Anxieties, Migration is Playing a Key Role in ECA Growth

Bratislava city aerial panoramic view. Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia.

Visegrád Divided


Czech Republic Renaming Has Real Economic Costs

Poland Challenges the European Identity

Poland emerging europe

World Bank: Western Balkans Need to Speed Up Growth For Faster Convergence

world bank

Polish Enterprise Salaries Climb Steeply

Money of National Bank of Poland. Polish zloty banknote on red velvet background; Macro photo; Depth of field

Poland’s Capital Saturation Lower Than the Czech Republic’s

deloitte fdi poland

Sunday Trading in Poland Under Renewed Threat

When Neutrality Isn’t an Option

President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin

Romanian Inflation Hits Four-Year High

supermarket, prices, inflation

Ukraine Is Offering Europe Unique Combat and Technological Experience

Škoda too Strong for VW Group

MLADA BOLESLAV CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 30: Skoda Octavia on conveyor line during Doors Open Day at Skoda Auto a.s. factory. Skoda auto celebrated 120 years since its founding on May 30 2015 in Mlada Boleslav.

Poland’s Business Constitution Must Be Finalised

Front of finance ministry in Warsaw Poland with a fountain framing the entrance. Could be used for images about Euro currency problems

Ukraine’s Economic Recovery: Good, But Slow

ukraine money

Romanian President Appoints Country’s First Female PM

viorica dancila prime minister of romania

All for One, and One for All


Georgia’s Sweetest Export Targets EU & Japan Expansion

Kiwi fruits growing on the branch on autumn

Romanian National Bank Hikes Interest Rates

BUCHAREST ROMANIA - MAY 25 2014: The National Bank of Romania (BNR) building palace designed by Albert Galleron and Cassien Bernard.

Valga and Valka – Where Estonia and Latvia Work Together

Valga valka emerging europe

WEF: Emerging Europe Ready for the Future

robotic machine tool in industrial manufacture plant,Smart factory industry 4.0 concept.

Is Prague the New Face of Overtourism?

prague tourists

Poland Stays Cool on Euro Adoption

Euro cash and Zloty on one photo.

Polish Shoppers in Hunt for Eggs

eggs in rack

Romanian Cyber Security Firm Valued at 600 million US dollars in Private Equity Swoop

cyber security

Emerging Europe’s Economies Are Booming

Romanians Take to the Streets in New Mass Protest

Retail Rents Rise Across Emerging Europe

Na Prikope Prague

Bulgaria Ski Resort Plans Concern WWF

Bansko, Bulgaria - December, 6, 2015: Two Bansko cable car cabins and snow mountains peaks

Still Potential for Growth in CEE as Economies Stabilise

EU to Fund New Poland-Slovakia Gas Pipeline

slovakia-poland gas pipeline

United or Divided? Europe in the Face of the Challenges of Tomorrow

Moldovan Government Hails Business-Friendly Legal Reforms; NGOs Remain Cool

Chisinau, Republic of Moldova, Eastern Europe, 29th June 2017: view to the Parliament Building in Chisinau, Moldova

Central and Eastern European Consumers Are Joining the Global Trends for Change

Bulgaria Needs a Reform-Oriented Government to Take Full Advantage of its EU Membership

bulgaria emerging europe

Do Your Homework First and Starting Business in Poland is Easier

Why is Armenia Borrowing Another 100 Million US Dollars From Russia?

Albania’s Election Apathy

tirana albania

Czech Election Result Could Delay Euro Adoption Until 2025

czech banknotes nominal value two and five thousand crowns on white background. 300 000 Kc is approximately 12 450 US dollars (USD) or 11 100 Euro (EUR)

Euroscepticism in Serbia: An Image Problem?

Big Fish, Small Fish, Where to Fish? On the Eve of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Focussing on Stability and Business Climate

Sarajevo Bosnia and Herzegovina - August 23 2015. View of Miljacka River in Sarajevo city

Poland Fails to Spend Billions of Euros in EU Funds

euro banknotes

Breaking With Imitations of the Past

Bulgaria Takes on EU Presidency

Sofia, Bulgaria - September 12, 2017: Architectural complex in downtown of Sofia in which the Presidential Administration is located, Sofia, Bulgaria

Latvia Urged Not to Increase Expenditure As Economy Grows

Riga, Latvia - August, 2010: Panorama view from Riga cathedral on old town of Riga, Latvia

Kraków: Officially Emerging Europe’s Most Elegant City

Krakow. Image of Krakow Market square, Poland during sunrise.

Romanian Opposition Unites Against ‘Crime Syndicate’ Government

Fiscal Policy Predictability in CEE — It’s Time for Change

Efficient Innovation: Entrepreneurship in Bulgaria

Beautiful photos of modern buildings under blue sky. Europe, Bulgaria, Sofia.

The End of Poland’s Shale Gas Eldorado

Beyond Borders: Immigration Within the EU

refugees immigrants

CEE Is Key to China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Shanghai skyline Panoramic view of shanghai skyline and huangpu river Shanghai China
  1. Former Head of Cabinet of the Polish Foreign Minister. It says it all. Point of view depends on the political party affiliation. No need to dispute a political statements.

  2. This is silly. Orban is not quarreling with the European institutions. It is the other way around, and in fact, a narrow group within the EU looking to forces countries against their will for purely political and racist reasons, to undermine the rule of law, nationhood, and national sovereignty at every turn. Hello! What other international institution forces a country against its will to take in migrants?

    None, except the EU. Not even the UN. In fact, according to the UN, it is considered genocide to force against a nations will the forceful resettlement of peoples into another another peoples land. That is one of the reasons for many long standing conflicts, be that Native-American land rights in Bolivia, or Palestinians and Jews in the Holy land. Forcing people against their will is never a good idea, and truly tyrannical and unacceptable, especially in this region. The last empire to try and force migration and population resettlement, was the USSR. They did so in Ukraine, Latvia, and Estonia.

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