Wednesday

30th Sep 2020

MEPs complain of 'no action' on Hungary and Poland

  • Czech prime minister Andrej Babis (l), Hungary's Viktor Orban, and Poland's Mateusz Morawiecki at last week's Brussel summit. While Orban and Morawiecki face an Article 7 procedure, an EU audit found conflicts of interest for Babis to answer (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Leaders of five groups in the EU Parliament have told member states in a letter to act on the sanctions procedures on Poland and Hungary - which have been dragging on for years.

The letter was sent on Friday (21 February) - and revealed on Monday - to EU Council president Charles Michel and Croatia'a EU affairs state secretary, Andreja Metelko-Zgombic whose country holds the rotating presidency of the bloc.

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In the letter, the MEPs expressed "deep concerns over the serious lack of progress in the Article 7 proceedings against Poland and Hungary".

The letter was coined by the leader of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), Iratxe Garcia, and was also signed by the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) group's leader, Manfred Weber, chief of the liberal Renew, Dacian Ciolos, Greens co-chair Ska Keller and co-presidents of the radical leftist group, European United Left, Martin Schirdewan and Manon Aubry.

They argue that member states "cannot ignore the also important and continuous threat to its funding principles".

The group leaders warned that the failure of member states to use Article 7 effectively undermines the integrity and credibility of the EU.

The letter comes ahead of a Tuesday (25 February) gathering of EU affairs ministers in Brussels, but neither Poland nor Hungary are on the agenda.

The Croatia presidency plans to put rule of law on the agenda for a meeting in March.

The presidency is "closely monitoring all developments regarding the rule of law in Poland and Hungary", as well as recent parliamentary resolutions on the issue, an official said.

The EU commission launched the Article 7 against the Warsaw government in 2017 for a judicial reform that increasingly puts the courts under political control.

The parliament triggered the same procedure against the Budapest government in 2018 mainly for curbing media freedom, attacking civil organisations, concerns over judicial independence, corruption, and rights of minorities and migrants.

Member states can decide if there is a "clear risk of a serious breach" of EU values and at a later stage could trigger sanctions, such as suspending the voting rights of the member states concerned.

But the process has been at an almost standstill in the council of member states.

The Austrian, and the Romanian EU presidencies dragged their feet on putting Hungary on the council's agenda.

EU affairs ministers have discussed Hungary only under the Finnish EU presidency, which put rule of law at the centre of its program, in September 2019 and in December 2019.

Besides the hearings, member states have not moved onto the next phase on establishing a "clear risk", as they remain reluctant to call out each other on what they primarily see as internal matters.

In a resolution in January, the parliament already called on member states to act, pointing to worsening situations in both countries.

In a sign of escalating threats to judicial independence, the commission in January asked the European Court of Justice to suspend the work of the Polish Disciplinary Chamber, established last year.

'Blind eye' no more

Member states "cannot turn a blind eye to the different debates and resolutions adopted in the parliament in the last three months or the different legal actions taken by the commission in both cases: it is high time to act," the letter said.

MEPs also want the parliament to be invited to the council to present its findings on Hungary.

The Finnish presidency has organised an informal meeting with MEPs, but despite the commission's and MEPs arguments, no lawmaker has been invited to the official meeting.

The Croatian presidency wants to continue an "exchnage of information" with MEPs, but a formal role for them is not foreseen during the hearings.

Iratxe also said it is time for the European Council, the gathering of EU leaders, to act.

At last week's summit, rule of law did come up when several leaders, mainly from the richer net payers, notably Germany and Finland said they wanted to strengthen the rule of law conditionality in the next EU budget, which has been watered down in the latest proposal by Michel.

Opinion

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Modelled in many respects on the same blueprint for democratic decline followed in Hungary by strongman Viktor Orbán and his ruling Fidesz party, the government in Poland has sought to fuse the ruling party and the state.

Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing

Hungary was quizzed by EU ministers over its domestic crackdown on media, judges, academia and NGOs. Hungary's minister responded by saying the country had defended "the European way of life" for centuries, and it should be respected.

EU leaders face major clash on rule of law budget link

One major issue dividing member states in the ongoing budget negotiations is inserting a direct link between EU subsidies and the rule of law. While the biggest battle will be over figures, the rule of law conditionality also creates tension.

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