Wednesday

22nd Jan 2020

MEPs call on EU states to act on Hungary and Poland

  • Commission vice-president Vera Jourova warned that the situation in Poland and Hungary has deteriorated (Photo: European Parliament)

MEPs called on EU countries on Wednesday (15 January) to set concrete demands and deadlines for Hungary and Poland, which have been under prolonged EU scrutiny over the rule of law and judicial independence.

The European Parliament debated the Article 7 probes underway in the council of member states against Poland and Hungary.

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In a resolution to be adopted on Thursday, MEPs are calling for concrete recommendations under the procedure to the two countries' governments, and set deadlines for their implementation.

The parliament "regrets" that hearings in the council have not resulted in any significant progress in Poland and Hungary, and that the situation has deteriorated in both countries, according to the draft resolution supported by five party groupings.

The centre-right European Peoples Party, where the membership of Hungary' ruling Fidesz party has been suspended, is also expected to support the resolution.

MEPs also warned that the inability of EU member states to act undermines the EU's integrity and credibility.

EU Commission vice-president dealing with EU values, Vera Jourova, told MEPs on Wednesday that new legislation adopted in Hungary last December will "substantially changes to the functioning of the judicial system".

Jourova said the commission is currently assessing the new measures.

The commissioner also highlighted prime minister Viktor Orban's grip on the media, citing concerns of a report by several media organisations from December warning that the Hungarian government has dismantled media pluralism and freedom.

Jourova also pointed out that the Central European University's accredited program was forced to move to Vienna from Budapest last year after Orban's government targeted the university founded by US investor George Soros, a political bogeyman for Orban.

The commission vice-president also warned that the disciplinary chamber of Poland's Supreme Court creates a risk of "irreparable damage" for Polish judges.

Croatia's job

The commission launched the sanctions procedure against the Polish nationalist government for curbing judicial independence in 2017.

The parliament triggered the same process against the Hungarian government for breaking EU rules and values in 2018.

Hungary called the procedure a political "witch-hunt" and claimed the left-wing was abusing the rule of law, using it as a political weapon.

While Poland had several hearings during the last two years, hearings on Hungary only took place in the last few months under the Finnish EU presidency.

Previous presidencies of Romania, whose socialist government also received rule of law criticism and Austria, who premier Sebastian Kurz has been an ally of Orban, were reluctant to launch the process.

Both Poland and Hungary presented their cases to fellow member states in the general affairs council, where ministers asked questions from the two governments about various laws.

But member states are reluctant to move the procedure to the next phase, where recommendations would have to be set out to Warsaw and Budapest, before countries determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach EU values, and possibly trigger sanctions.

MEPs also call on the Croatian presidency to organise hearings on Poland and Hungary, but for the January council no plans have been made for a new round of hearings.

MEPs also called on Croatia to include the parliament, which had triggered the procedure, in the formal hearings with Hungary - which the council has so far refused.

The parliament also called for a new permanent mechanism that monitors rule of law in all member states. The commission had earlier proposed an annual review on rule of law.

Ongoing court cases

The MEPs' call comes as the commission on Tuesday (14 January) asked the European Court of Justice to temporarily suspend the functioning of the disciplinary chamber of Poland's Supreme Court.

The commission thinks the chamber does not protect judges from political control and that the functioning of the chamber "creates a risk of irreparable damage" for Polish judges.

In the meantime, the legal adviser to the EU's top court on Tuesday said (in a non-binding opinion) that a 2017 Hungarian law requiring civil organisations to disclose their foreign donors and brand themselves as "foreign funded" is in breach of EU rules.

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