Wednesday

4th Aug 2021

EU rule-of-law report slams Poland and Hungary

  • The report comes in a crucial moment as Brussels is currently approving member states’ pandemic recovery plans (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)

The European Commission on Wednesday (20 July) published its second report on the state of the judiciary, media freedom, and corruption in member states, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the rule of law.

The annual rule-of-law report was approved by the college of commissioners - with two objections, presumed to be Hungary and Poland.

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While the review acknowledged positive development in some member states, it particularly criticises Poland and Hungary - who are both still awaiting the commission approval for their recovery plans.

In its last year's report, the commission already raised concerns over the independence of the judiciary and the situation in the media landscape in Hungary and Poland - who are the only two member states facing sanctions over the rule of law under the Article 7 procedure.

The commission said that the influence of Poland's ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) party over the judiciary is still a matter of concern.

"The reforms of the Polish justice system, including new developments, continue to be a source of serious concerns as referred to in 2020," reads the report.

The EU executive notes irregularities in an appointment of judges to the country's Constitutional Tribunal and the fact that the prosecutor-general, responsible for state corruption, was at the same time the justice minister.

The EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders said on Wednesday that he has written to Polish authorities asking how they will comply with two rulings by the European Court of Justice over judicial independence. The EU executive gave Warsaw until 16 August to respond.

If Poland does not comply with the rulings, "we will go back to the court asking for financial sanctions," Reynders said during a press conference.

The Polish government spokesperson Piotr Muller responded on Twitter that the government will analyse the documents from the commission over the need to comply with EU court rulings and provisions under the treaties.

Similarly, the EU executive has also expressed concern over the judicial independence and anti-corruption strategy in Hungary.

It adds that "media pluralism remains at risk" since significant amounts of state advertising end up going to media supporting the government, while "independent media outlets and journalists continue to face obstruction and intimidation".

Hungarian justice minister Judit Varga said on Twitter that the rule-of-law report was not objective. Instead, she said that it "echoes the criticisms of those NGOs that remain negatively biased towards Hungary".

The statement was retweeted by Slovenian prime minister Janez Janša - whose country currently holds the EU Council presidency.

Budget blockage?

The report comes in a crucial moment as Brussels is currently approving member states' pandemic recovery plans, conditional to having a robust justice system and anti-corruption framework.

The EU executive has already postponed its approval on €7bn for Hungary, while Poland wants to access more than €24bn.

The Renew Europe group in the European Parliament has reiterated its call to the commission, asking not to approve the Hungarian plan.

"We asked the commission to make sure the EU's recovery money goes to honest and deserving Hungarians, not politically-connected ones", said the group leader Dacian Cioloş.

EU commissioner for transparency and values, Vera Jourova, said that negotiations with both countries are still ongoing and that she could not predict when the plans would be approved.

Meanwhile, the commission called once again on the Slovenian authorities to appoint its candidates to the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) - a body responsible for uncovering and prosecuting fraud involving EU funds.

The report also adds that the situation of media freedom and pluralism in Slovenia is "deteriorating," pointing out the refusal by the authorities to finance the Slovenian Press Agency this year.

The EU executive also worries over shortcomings in final convictions of high-profile corruption cases in Bulgaria, noting that challenges remain concerning the integrity of public administration, lobbying and whistleblowing protection, where no dedicated legislation exists.

Poland and Hungary sanctions procedure back after pandemic

The Article 7 sanctions procedure was initially launched against Warsaw in 2017 by the EU Commission and triggered by the European Parliament in 2018 against Budapest. Now it is back on the table, after the pandemic.

Opinion

Next week is time for EU to finally lead on rule of law

The EU Commission still has to prove they are ready to stand up for the rights of every citizen in the EU. Throwing the towel in would send a terrible signal to European leaders tempted to emulate Hungary and Poland.

EU may delay approval of Hungary's recovery plan

The EU executive is analysing the latest replies it received from the Hungarian authorities which only arrived last Friday. MEPs have urged the commission not to approve Hungary's plan until an effective anti-fraud system is in place.

Hungary's recovery ratification on hold, amid anti-LGBTIQ row

The EU Commission and most MEPs have called on Hungary on Wednesday (7 July) to repeal discriminatory new laws against LGBTIQ people or face legal consequences. Meanwhile, the commission is assessing Budapest's Covid-19 pandemic recovery plan.

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