If You Leave Me Now: The Possible Outcomes of Cases C-156/21 and C-157/21

The values that define the very identity of the EU as a unique legal order of public law have gained a new tool for their protection, the conditionality mechanism of the Union budget, after the CJEU dismissed the legal challenges brought against it by Poland and Hungary in cases C-156/21 and C-157/21. As these Members are the biggest net recipients of Union funds, it is hoped they will now change their illiberal path. But slashing funding could also backfire and push them towards withdrawal if being in the EU no longer provides such benefits. This paper discusses both outcomes: Will this tool prove to be pivotal in the defence of Art 2 or will it result in a withdrawal crisis? And if the latter, what role for these values which the Court has now vested with a ‘legally-binding’ status to be upheld ‘at all times’? Can the EU simply accept the exit of a state failing democratic and rule of law standards despite such an act legitimising illiberalism and arguably betraying its citizens?