May 29, 2022

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Europe’s Supreme Court, in a rebuke to Hungary and Poland, says the EU can withhold certain funds from member states that violate the rule of law

Europe's Supreme Court, in a rebuke to Hungary and Poland, says the EU can withhold certain funds from member states that violate the rule of law

Countries could lose billions if the European Union decides to take advantage of the rules approved on Wednesday.

The ruling is the initial culmination of years of escalating threats between the Polish and Hungarian capitals on one side and the European Commission in Brussels on the other over the overall direction of the diverse bloc of nations.

Anti-corruption groups and rule of law advocates said this was an important step. “The court’s decision gives us ground to hope that the systematic corruption and deliberate demolition of democratic checks and balances in Hungary will end,” said Miklos Ligety, Transparency International’s legal director in Hungary.

The court ruling also comes at a critical time, as Hungary prepares for parliamentary elections in early April, when Prime Minister Viktor Orban may face his biggest challenge with the opposition in more than a decade.

In both Poland and Hungary, the vast majority of people are found Valid from the European UnionDespite their government’s clashes with Brussels.

The European Union has already stopped some payments to Poland and Hungary from the Epidemic Recovery Fund. Opposition parties in Hungary They campaigned On the platform to open those payments and restore normal relations with the European Union

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, is expected to announce in the coming weeks how it wants to move forward – an announcement that could enter the crucial stage of Hungary’s election campaign. Affected areas could include infrastructure support and agricultural funds, which are significant in the case of Hungary and Poland and managed by the same countries so far.

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The new EU instrument allows the bloc’s leadership to suspend self-administration of its subsidies by countries that do not comply with EU Supreme Court rulings, or by countries that tolerate the misuse of EU funds.

After the European Union saw its funds misused “helplessly over the past decade”, the court ruling “opened the way for the Commission to take more effective action,” Ursulia Finches, an expert with the Hungarian anti-corruption group, said in a statement.

It was not clear on Wednesday whether the European Commission would propose triggering the new mechanism. For it to be triggered, at least 15 of the 27 member states – representing about 290 million people out of the EU’s total population of more than 440 million – would need to endorse its launch.

Vinches warned that the ruling would only make a difference if the European Commission was “determined to benefit from it”.

The likelihood of that happening may also depend on political factors – including the ability of Hungary and Poland to find allies.

Some countries, particularly in Western Europe, want to make the union more coherent in terms of the values ​​that its members must uphold. Other countries led by Poland and Hungary resisted such efforts.

One such fight was over LGBT rights. Several Polish regions and towns have declared them “LGBT-free” areas in recent years, drawing criticism from Western European countries, as well as EU threats to withdraw funding for those places. Many places retreated amid the threats of the European Union.

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Amid the growing controversies, Poland’s Constitutional Court, which is itself under scrutiny for being influenced by domestic political interests, said in a controversial ruling last year that Polish law could take precedence over decisions of the EU’s Supreme Court.

European Parliament later condemned The Polish statements described the Polish Constitutional Court as an “instrument to legitimize the illegal activities of the authorities”.

Nowak reported from Paris.