EC report raises concerns over Hungary and Poland
Democracy is suffering in several European nations, including Hungary and Poland, according to a European Commission report on the rule of law published Wednesday.
The report expressed the most serious reservations about the situation in Hungary and Poland.
For the first time, the commission has presented an annual assessment of the rule of law and democratic principles’ functioning to highlight possible problems with respect for European values. It thus tries to prevent the situation from Poland or Hungary from being repeated in the case of other states, with which the EU institutions have been conducting practically fruitless proceedings for a long time.
“If the rule of law is missing or in danger, it affects the lives of each of us,” said European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova, adding that she grew up in communist Czechoslovakia, where totalitarianism reigned. The evaluation can draw member countries’ attention to shortcomings and clearly define the concept of the rule of law, the alleged fog of which some countries blame the commission.
Based on contacts with Member States’ authorities or NGOs, Brussels assessed four primary areas: judicial systems, the fight against corruption, media pluralism and the overall balance of institutions.
“In some Member States, the direction of change has raised serious concerns that reforms should not affect the independence of the judiciary,” the report said in a chapter on Poland and Hungary. According to the EC, there are “serious concerns” about the possible subordination of the courts to political power in these states.
The commission published the report the day after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán called on Jourova to resign because she was introducing a “sick democracy” in Hungary. According to the EC, today’s report proves that the long-term criticism of the government in Budapest is based on facts.
According to the document, the commission is also closely monitoring potentially problematic developments in the judiciary in Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia. On the contrary, in Slovakia, according to the EC, the new government promised to strengthen the courts’ independence after the problematic approach of the previous one.
According to Brussels, many countries have been introducing more effective anti-corruption rules in recent years, generally improving. However, in some states, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Croatia, not all corruption cases are sufficiently investigated, the EC said.
According to today’s report, media pluralism is also generally useful in EU countries. However, according to the commission, there is a risk of politicization of media oversight authorities in Poland, Hungary, and Malta. In these three countries, together with Bulgaria, the EC also raised concerns about politicians’ direct influence on both public and private media. The Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Cyprus relate to allegations of lack of transparency in media ownership.
According to Jourová, the commission wants to use the evaluation primarily for dialogue with member countries. Still, it is also ready to force the correction of serious or long-term transgressions.
“We will not be reluctant to initiate infringement proceedings in the future either,” said the European Commission’s vice-president. She added that combining the European bloc’s future seven-year budget to the rule of law should be useful. Such a merger is currently being negotiated by the EU Member States, with Hungary and Poland seeking to weaken this conditionality.