Brussels warns of the threat of defiance of the rule of law by states

The European Commission will prevent growing threats to judicial independence and the fight against official corruption in Hungary and Poland, highlighting deep concerns in Brussels as the two countries seek EU approval for their recovery plans.

A report by the rule of law commission on Tuesday highlights “serious concerns” over judicial independence in both Poland and Hungary, and strongly criticizes Budapest for failing to address clientelism and favoritism. at high levels of government.

The report, draft chapters that have been viewed by the Financial Times, covers developments in all 27 EU member states, giving a health check of justice systems, freedom of the media and controls and institutional budgets.

Sections on Poland and Hungary are particularly sensitive, as the two countries seek approval for billions of euros for a share of the EU’s € 800 billion recovery fund.

The commission is under intense pressure from MEPs to strengthen its approach to violations of the rule of law, including the possibility of withholding payments of EU funds to member states that persistently exploit the values ​​of the union. .

Both Poland and Hungary presented their recovery plans to the commission more than two months ago, but their capitals remain in dialogue with Brussels pending their signing. Poland has made an offer for almost € 24 billion in Next Generation EU grants, while Hungary wants access to funds of more than € 7 billion.

Protesters in front of the Polish Constitutional Court during a hearing in Warsaw © Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS

The offer of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has received a special examination due to an invoice to prohibit content depicting or promoting LGBTI + people in schools and the media. Last week Paolo Gentiloni, EU economy commissioner, said it could be weeks before Hungary’s plan is approved.

Poland has received an extra month from Brussels while seeking approval for its plan. The commission’s rule of law report will highlight a continuing deterioration in perceptions of the Polish justice system over the past five years, warning that “many aspects of justice reform raise serious concerns as to the rule of law, in particular judicial independence ”.

Didier Reynders, EU justice commissioner, did warned which challenges the primacy of EU law as those in Poland, and even in countries including Germany and France, could “destroy the union itself” if it is not treated.

Those concerns were intensified last week by the kingdom by the constitutional court of Poland which found that Warsaw should not respect the order of the European Court of Justice concerning its judiciary.

The rule of law report is also part of concerns about the Hungarian judicial system, and the selection of Zsolt András Varga as president of its supreme court.

The appointment came despite his appointment being rejected by the National Judicial Council, a self-governing body of judges, which cited a lack of qualifying experience. Such appointments, the commission said, “raise serious concerns regarding judicial independence.”

The draft report criticizes Budapest for official corruption, complaining about insufficient independent control mechanisms and a lack of “systemic checks”.

The commission’s draft also sees disturbing signs at this point in Poland, where it finds a risk of “undue influence” on corruption proceedings. The report raises particular concern over the fact that the justice minister is also the country’s attorney general.

In its coverage of other EU Member States, the draft report also notes corruption problems in Austria and Bulgaria and cites problems with high-level conflicts of interest in the Czech Republic, which has won the Commission approved its € 7 billion recovery plan on Monday.

The report highlights threats to media independence and funding in several Member States, in part due to economic pressure during the Covid-19 closures. He highlighted the attacks on journalists – particularly those investigating crime and corruption – citing the murder of Dutch journalist Peter De Vries in Amsterdam this month.

It will be presented Tuesday by Reynders and Vera Jourova, the commission’s vice president.

Brussels will face growing calls to intensify its defense of the rule of law in the union as leaders including Orban openly challenge the values ​​and legal principles that the EU seeks to defend. Article 7 Disciplinary proceedings initiated against Budapest and Warsaw remain blocked, highlighting the EU’s struggle to prevent a return.

Tensions have been rising recently highlighted in Slovenia, the holder of the rotating EU presidency, where Janez Jansa, the prime minister, has publicly attacked the media and the judiciary.

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