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 determine whether they are receiving billions of euros in funds from the EU to help recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
The EU executive had already raised many concerns in a report last year, but they can now have real consequences as Brussels has made access to its clawback fund conditional on grants and loans worth total of 800 billion euros to respect 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.
There was no immediate reaction from Warsaw and Budapest to the criticisms contained in the Commission’s report.
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.
The report states that Hungary has not followed 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 Commission cited persistent inadequacies in the funding of Hungarian political parties and the 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.
It listed illegal appointments and changes made by PiS to the Constitutional Court and other bodies, as well as Warsaw’s rejection of European court decisions binding on each member state.
The Commission 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
Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.