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'Causes For Serious Concern': EU Warns Hungary, Poland Over Rule Of Law, Media Freedom

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

The European Commission has slammed Hungary and Poland for eroding media freedoms and judicial independence, adding that corruption remains a major challenge in both EU members.

The European Union has repeatedly warned that democratic standards are being challenged in Hungary and Poland.

In a new rule-of-law report released on July 20, the commission also singled out Slovenia, which currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the 27-member bloc, for violating freedom of the media, citing online harassment and threats against Slovenian journalists.

“There are causes for serious concern in a number of member states, especially when it comes to the independence of judiciary,” said Vera Jourova, the commission's vice president for values and transparency, the bloc's top rule-of-law official.

The report found that Poland was not up to standards in the four main areas reviewed: justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media freedom, and checks and balances.

Last week, the EU's top court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), found that the Polish Supreme Court's disciplinary chamber does not guarantee impartiality and independence and infringes upon the independence of the judiciary, running counter to EU law.

Jourova on July 20 gave Poland less than one month to come up with clarifications on how it was complying with the ECJ's ruling or face hefty financial penalties.

"Poland needs to inform us of the measures foreseen by August 16," Jourova said. “EU law has primacy over national law. All decisions by the European Court of Justice are binding."

Polish government spokesman Piotr Mueller said Warsaw will analyze the report and formulate its opinion after that.

The report also blasted Hungary for lack of proper anti-corruption measures, while warning that media freedom and pluralism “remain at risk."

In Hungary, "risks of clientelism, favoritism, and nepotism in high-level public administration as well as risks arising from the link between businesses and political actors remain unaddressed," a summary of the report says.

At a summit last month, EU leaders blasted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban over new legislation that bans the display of LGBT material to children, while the European Commission also started legal action against both Hungary and Poland for what the EU’s executive arm sees as blatant disrespect for the rights of LGBT people.

According to the EU's executive arm, reforms of the Polish justice system carried out over the past six years continue to increase the influence of the government over the justice system, damaging judicial independence.

The report also pointed out a risk of “undue influence on corruption prosecutions for political purposes" and noted a deterioration of working conditions for journalists, “with use of intimidating judicial proceedings."

Balazs Hidveghi, a European lawmaker from Orban's ruling Fidesz party, tweeted that the report “has nothing to do with reality. It’s simply the compilation of leftist NGOs’ baseless accusations against Hungary’s conservative government.”

However, the conclusions of the report threaten to bring serious consequences for Warsaw and Budapest.

A new mechanism introduced last year amid growing concerns over the democratic backsliding in the two Central European countries links observing the rule of law and democratic standards to the disbursement of EU funds, allowing Brussels to to withhold the money in case of severe violations.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and dpa
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