Angela Merkel’s chancellorship will likely be written in the history books as a remarkable era in many respects. Beside her many virtues however, the former German premier undoubtedly committed mistakes with long-lasting ramifications, some of which are demonstrated by the Ukraine conflict today. We are suffering the dire consequences of the opportunistic deals she made with autocrats and Europe’s enemies. That’s why we must never make these mistakes again.

Angela Merkel’s foreign and EU policy was often criticized for its extreme pragmatism and overzealous representation of German business interests, sometimes at the expense of values. That’s how Germany, despite being the leading force of the European Union, developed and maintained proverbially special bilateral relations with Moscow, and refrained from even mildly criticizing a corrupt and anti-democratic Member State government as long as it served the business interests of the big German corporations.

This policy may basically have seemed to be right – from the German point of view, that is.

They even manufactured the ideological garnishment for their actions: “yes, yes, Putin and Orbán, they do things that are not quite to our taste, but we must still keep up the communication with them”. We heard it so many times…

Now we can see the result: Putin now uses European money to destroy Ukraine just so he could keep chasing his dreams of the Russian empire. In the meantime, his Hungarian crony Orbán is still busy building a one-party regime in Hungary, while making spectacular gestures to Moscow and going against all the other EU member states. Just like his mentor, he loves using European money for it.

However, as the EU (excluding Orbán) finally learned to take a united stance against external threats, the community has also made significant efforts to create an internal unity over the past few years.

The results include the rule of law mechanism and other safeguards to prevent EU funds from being used for building anti-European regimes within our community.

No wonder Orbán eventually decided not to request any money from the COVID-19 relief funds under such conditions, since he was waiting for the Russian and Chinese monies, which would have been more expensive but available without any conditions. But the war thwarted his plans and his sources dried out. So he asked the European Commission to consider the Ukraine crisis and let him have the money he rejected last year – without any conditions, of course.

The question is what will the European Commission do?

What will Ursula von der Leyen do, who is widely considered as Angela Merkel’s follower?

Will she kowtow to Orbán for the nth time and meet his requirements again, or will she reject them? Unfortunately, the European Commission’s well-known functional reflexes leave little room for optimism: they have obviously been undermining, weakening and delaying the sanctions against habitual offenders of the community’s norms, just like they are doing now with the rule of law mechanism.

Nevertheless, this situation clearly shows what you get if you keep avoiding conflicts: unprecedented crises and even more conflicts. It’s a false illusion to think that leaders like Orbán can ever be lured back to the common European values. They can’t, because these cynical politicians understand nothing but force. They pocket the money and then go on as if nothing happened.

Europe must make it clear that it will never yield to any blackmail attempts by the autocrats, will refuse to give them any more money to operate their regimes and will do anything in its power to make them fail. Regardless if they are called Putin or Orbán.