Wednesday, 21 Oct 2020

EU crisis: Brussels lashes out at bloc members over law violations – including Germany

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The EU Commission presented its first report as part of its plan to ensure laws and principles are respected within the 27 member states. It comes as the bloc is reviewing which countries can access EU money, including a new €750billion coronavirus recovery fund.

So far Poland and Hungary have been singled out due to their restrictions on the independence of the judiciary and freedom of the media. But other members of the EU, including Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Slovakia were also criticised for shortcomings in ensuring their courts’ independence.

Meanwhile, Germany was scrutinised over whether federal and state justice ministers should be allowed to give instructions to public prosecutors.

But the Commission decided there were enough legal guarantees “to reduce the risk of abuse of the right to issue instructions”.

The bloc also lashed out at other member states during the review.

The report said: “Poland’s justice reforms since 2015 have been a major source of controversy.”

Hungary was also mentioned as “the direction of change has given rise to serious concern” about judicial independence.

The two countries are at odds with the EU after being accused of undercutting democracy through putting courts, media, NGOs and academics under more state control.

The EU’s top democracy official, Commissioner Vera Jourova said: “The European Union was created also as an antidote to authoritarian tendencies.”

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban called for Ms Jourova to step down after she said his idea of “illiberal democracy” was in fact leading an “ailing democracy”.

However the Commission did not agree to this.

Defending the rule of law, Ms Jourova also said: “We are trying to open a new chapter in defending and promoting the rule of law in the EU.

“Deficiencies often merge into an undrinkable cocktail even if individual ingredients seem to be fine.”

The Commission also suffered a blow today after nine member states rejected the EU’s draft text over how exactly to make EU handouts conditional on upholding the rule of law.

Poland and Hungary opposed the proposal, saying it went beyond what national leaders agreed last July.

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Other members including Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands also demanded tougher rule of law conditions.

The European Parliament’s member leading the file, Finland’s Petri Sarvamaa of the centre-right European People’s Party, said: “It’s going to be a very, very difficult and tough negotiation.”

The bloc’s attempts to force Poland and Hungary to change their approach to the rule of law have so proved to be a challenge.

This is because they both protect each other from major punishment because the EU now requires unanimity to suspend an offender’s voting rights.

Up to 40 EU law experts this week wrote to the Commission to demand action on the Polish courts.

They said: “The rule of law in Poland is not merely being attacked.

“It is being destroyed in plain sight.

Hungary also threatened a veto if its EU funding comes under threat.

A government spokeswoman said: “This is not rule of law; this is the rule of blackmail.”

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg.

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