Yet 17 years later, as the EU ramps up efforts to rein in democratic backsliding in both countries, some of the governing right-wing populists in Hungary and Poland are comparing the bloc to their former Soviet oppressors — and flirting with the prospect of exiting the trade bloc.

“Brussels sends us overlords who are supposed to bring Poland to order, on our knees,” a leading member of Poland’s governing Law and Justice party, Marek Suski, said this month, adding that Poland “will fight the Brussels occupier” as it fought past Nazi and Soviet occupiers.

It’s unclear to what extent this kind of talk represents a real desire to leave the 27-member bloc or a negotiating tactic to counter arm-twisting from Brussels. The two countries are the largest net beneficiaries of EU money, and the vast majority of their citizens want to stay in the bloc.

Yet the rhetoric has increased in recent months, after the EU resorted to financially penalizing members that fail its rule of law and democratic governance standards.

In December, EU lawmakers approved a regulation tying access to some EU funds to a country’s respect for the rule of law. This is seen as targeting Hungary and Poland.