EU lists rule of law concerns for Hungary, Poland key to unlocking COVID funds
BRUSSELS, July 20 (Reuters) – The European Commission on Tuesday listed serious concerns about the rule of law in Poland and Hungary in a report that could help decide whether they are receiving billions of euros in funds from the EU to help recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
The executive branch of the European Union has also given Poland until August 16 to comply with a ruling by the EU’s highest court last week, ignored by Warsaw, that Poland’s system of disciplining judges is breaking EU law and should be suspended. Read more
If Poland does not comply, the committee will ask the European Court to impose financial sanctions on Warsaw, commission vice-chair Vera Jourova said at a press conference.
The committee had already raised many concerns in a report last year, but they can now have real consequences as Brussels has made access to its recovery fund conditional on grants and loans totaling $ 800 billion. euros to respect for the rule of law.
The commission said that Poland and Hungary undermined media pluralism and the independence of the courts. They are the only two countries in the 27-member bloc to be officially investigated by the EU for breach of the rule of law.
“The Commission may take into account the rule of law report (…) when identifying and assessing violations of the rule of law principles which affect the financial interests of the Union” , the commission said in a statement.
Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller said on Twitter that the government would analyze the committee’s documents regarding the need to comply with EU court rulings.
Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga said on Facebook that the commission was blackmailing Hungary over a child protection law that would not allow “LGBTQ activists and any sexual propaganda in Hungarian kindergartens and schools ”.
The EU executive has already delayed its € 7.2 billion approval for Hungary in an attempt to secure rule of law concessions from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government and has yet to give up its fire green for 23 billion euros in grants and 34 billion in cheap loans. for Poland.
Jourova said she could not predict when the money for Poland might be approved and noted that Warsaw must first convince the committee that it has a credible system of control and audit to spend the money. EU money.
The report states that Hungary has not followed up on the commission’s request to strengthen judicial independence and that its anti-corruption strategy is too limited in scope.
In a decade in power, Orban has partly used billions of euros of public and EU funds to build a loyal business elite that includes family members and close friends.
The committee cited persistent gaps in the funding of Hungarian political parties and risks of patronage and nepotism in high-level public administration.
Significant amounts of state advertising go to media supporting the government, while independent media and journalists face obstacles and intimidation, he said.
The report also expressed concern about the influence of the ruling nationalist party in Poland Law and Justice (PiS) on the justice system.
He listed what he said were illegal appointments and changes by the PiS to the constitutional court and other bodies, and Warsaw’s rejection of EU court decisions binding on each member state.
The Committee noted that the Attorney General, responsible for tracking state corruption, was both the Polish Minister of Justice and an active PiS politician.
Since last year, the professional environment for journalists in Poland has deteriorated due to “intimidating legal proceedings, a growing inability to protect journalists and violent actions during protests, including by police officers. police force, ”he said.
Reporting by Jan Strupczewski Editing by Gareth Jones and Nick Macfie
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