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The EU Bankrolled a Rebellion That Threatens to Tear It Apart

Poland and Hungary have used the largesse of the European Union to undermine democracy and the rule of law. Is it too late to bring them in line?

Viktor Orban and Jaroslaw Kaczynski

Viktor Orban and Jaroslaw Kaczynski

Photo Illustration: 731; Photos: Bloomberg; Getty Images

Governments across Europe are showcasing their plans to reinvigorate economies after the pandemic, and nowhere more so than in Poland. Ruling Law & Justice party officials have visited dozens of towns to hand out replica checks to local leaders displaying how much is headed their way. The slogan on billboards and buses declared the government had found “770 billion zloty for Poland.” That’s equivalent to $190 billion, a full one-third of the nation’s economic output.

What the ads didn’t mention was the source of so much of the money: the European Union. Poland is the biggest net recipient of EU funding and yet—along with ally Hungary—has become its biggest problem. The flow of money is now the key battleground in a war with Brussels over issues including the rule of law, LGBTQ rights, and media freedom.