29th Sep 2023

Poland and Hungary still lagging, says annual EU rule-of-law report

  • EU commissioner Vera Jourova: 'The novelty of this year is that for the first time we assess the recommendations we have given to each member state last year' (Photo: European Union, 2023)
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Poland has made little progress on the rule of law, while Hungary made only marginal improvements, according to a new European Commission report.

Both countries, led by nationalist conservative governments, remain largely at loggerheads with a European Union that has conditioned the release of billions in EU funds on strengthening their democratic institutions.

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But the annual rule-of-law report by the European Commission published on Wednesday (5 July), its fourth, says Warsaw has yet to implement a whole raft of reforms needed to ensure democratic accountability.

"The novelty of this year is that for the first time we assess the recommendations we have given to each member state last year," Věra Jourová, a vice-president of the European Commission, told reporters in Brussels.

"It was the first time we did it and today we give them a written assessment of what are the remaining next challenges," she said.

She cited progress on some two-thirds of the recommendations from the previous rule of law report among EU states. "Obviously it is happening in different speeds and the level of competencies is also different," she said.

Poland appears to be among the slowest to initiate reforms.

The commission's chapter on Poland highlights a list of unresolved problems, including Warsaw's failure to make any progress on strengthening integrity rules and ensuring independent investigations.

The country also needs to continue to ensure the functional independence of the prosecution service from the government, it says.

The negative verdict comes ahead of Polish national elections later this year and one where migration is being used by Poland's prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki to stir resentment against the EU.

This includes plans to organise a referendum asking Poles for their opinion on accepting migrants who entered the EU irregularly.

Hungary fares only marginally better, with the report noting that Budapest has strengthened the National Judicial Council, a self-governing body of judges.

However, it was also faulted for not making any progress when it comes to lobbying, high-level corruption cases, civil society and media independence.

The bad blood continued to flow at an EU summit in Brussels last week when Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban insinuated that billions from the European Union budget had been mismanaged.

He also rejected European Commission's plans to grant Ukraine €50bn, noting that Budapest and Warsaw are still owed EU funds "we are entitled to get."

In a tweet, Orban's chief spokesperson, Zoltan Kovacs, described the report as an attack on Hungary "because we do not join the pro-war group. We do not want migrant ghettos."

As of earlier this year, a combined total of around €138bn had been withheld from both Poland and Hungary due to violations of the rule of law.

Not everyone is convinced that even such marginal promised reforms will be actually implemented. German Green MEP Daniel Freund says cited improvements in Hungary and Poland should not be taken at face value.

"It is true that cosmetic reform efforts can be observed in both countries, especially regarding the judicial sector. However, these efforts exist primarily on paper," he said, in a statement.

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EU Parliament parties urge 'no money for Orbán's Hungary'

The Christian Democrat, Social Democrat, liberal and green groups, plus the smaller Left group, warned that the latest legislative developments in Hungary will further deteriorate the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy.

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