The European Union’s executive Commission says democratic standards in the bloc are eroding in several member countries, particularly in Hungary and Poland where judicial independence is under threatBy SAMUEL PETREQUIN Associated PressJuly 20, 2021, 3:03 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBRUSSELS — Democratic standards in the European Union are eroding in several member countries, particularly in Hungary and Poland where judicial independence is under threat, the EU’s executive commission said Tuesday in its annual report on adherence to the rule of law.The report also singled out Slovenia, which recently took over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Council, for attacks against the Balkan nation’s media.“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 vice-president for Values and Transparency.The review, which is in its second year, was published a week after the EU’s top court ruled that Poland’s way of disciplining judges contravenes EU law and undermines judicial independence, telling the country’s right-wing government which introduced the system to change it.The European Commission has also started legal action against Poland and Hungary for what the EU’s executive arm sees as blatant disrespect for the rights of LGBT people.The wide-ranging audit found Poland deficient in the four main areas reviewed: national justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media freedom and checks and balances.According to the EU’s executive arm, reforms of the Polish justice system carried out over the past six years by the current government 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.”Hungary was criticized for its perceived inadequate anti-corruption measures and the report noted that media pluralism “remains at risk.” The report depicted a bleak media situation in Slovenia, reporting online harassment and threats against journalists.Balazs Hidveghi, a European lawmaker with Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, wrote on Twitter that the European Commission’s rule of law report “has nothing to do with reality. It’s simply the compilation of leftist NGOs’ baseless accusations against Hungary’s conservative government.”Piotr Mueller, the spokesman for Poland’s government said it will analyze the documents presented by the European Commission.The EU has repeatedly warned that democratic standards are being challenged in Hungary and Poland. At a June summit, EU leaders strongly clashed with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban over new legislation that bans the display of LGBT issues to children in that country.Earlier this year, the European Union’s executive arm also condemned Slovenia’s right-wing prime minister, Janez Jansa, for a series of aggressive comments about journalists.But the EU’s criticism seems to have little effect. After the European Court of Justice’s ruling, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki dismissed it as a “typical dispute of the doctrine” and insisted that the EU court has no authority on the shaping of the justice systems in individual member nations.Jourova said the commission has formally asked Poland to confirm by Aug. 16 it will fully comply with the ruling or face financial sanctions.“EU law has primacy over national law. All decisions by the European Court of Justice are binding,” she said.The aim of the report is not to sanction countries. To try to rein in member states they believe are at fault, EU institutions can use the so-called Article 7 procedure, but proceedings launched against Poland and Hungary have not been conclusive so far.EU lawmakers have been losing patience and threatened last month to sue the bloc’s executive branch if it fails to take action against countries allegedly violating democratic standards, notably Hungary and Poland. They urged European Parliament President David Sassoli to demand that the European Commission “fulfil its obligations” within two weeks, under a system tying access to some EU funds to a country’s respect for the rule of law.The system was included in the budget the EU approved last year covering the 2021-27 period and which also included a massive coronavirus economic stimulus fund. In March, the right-wing governments of Poland and Hungary filed a complaint with the European Court of Justice to challenge it.Both countries have submitted their plans to receive a share of the €800 billion EU recovery fund to finance the 27-nation bloc’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis, but the commission has yet to approve them.———Justin Spike in Budapest and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed to this story.
French president Emmanuel Macron says the European Union needs to fight a “cultural” and “civilizational” battle to stop the rise of illiberal ideas across the 27-nation bloc that he believes are threatening European valuesBy SAMUEL PETREQUIN Associated PressJune 25, 2021, 1:26 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBRUSSELS — French president Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that the European Union needs to fight a “cultural” and “civilizational” battle to stop the rise of illiberal ideas across the 27-nation bloc that he believes are threatening European values at their core.Macron spoke at the end of summit of EU leaders in Brussels where they strongly clashed with Hungary’s prime minister over new legislation that bans the display of LGBT issues to children in that country.Macron condemned the new law in the name of “human dignity” and “individual freedom,” throwing his support behind the EU’s executive commission’s plan to start legal action against Hungary.But the French president insisted it would be wrong to point the finger at Orban without reflecting on the reasons pushing some countries in eastern Europe to turn their back on democratic values.“How do people in Europe come to this?” Macron told journalists. “We see in several member countries like Hungary, Poland and many others, an anti-liberal conservatism against our values. We have to respect it. But it is now undermining those values and what has built the core of our western liberal democracy for centuries.”The Hungarian law has also turned the spotlight on the EU’s inability to rein in the “illiberal democracies” among its ranks like Hungary and Poland. Critics charge that the two countries’ deeply conservative, nationalist and anti-migrant governments have flouted the bloc’s democratic standards and values for years.The EU has repeatedly warned that democratic standards are being challenged in some countries, particularly in Hungary and Poland. Earlier this year, the European Union’s executive arm also condemned Slovenia’s right-wing prime minister Janez Janša for a series of aggressive comments about journalists.“We must give content, perspectives and meaning to our liberal values, in the political sense of the term, in the philosophical sense of the term, and show the strength of our democracies,” Macron said. “It is not so much the backsliding of the laws — which we must obviously and intransigently fight — that concerns me. It is the backsliding in the minds and mentalities. And as such it is a cultural, civilizational battle that we must fight.”Macron admitted he does not hold a magic recipe to fix what he sees as a “deep trend” in Europe but suggested that bringing intellectuals and civil society into the debate could help revive democratic values in countries where their appeal has been eroded.He also said the just-launched Conference of the Future of Europe could serve as a springboard for “deep change” in Europe.German chancellor Angela Merkel said the debate over the Hungarian law raises broader questions about the direction the EU is heading in, whether it should strive for “ever closer union” and what should be done when clashes arise over fundamental values.“This is something that isn’t just called into question by Hungary, but which we certainly have to discuss at greater depth and length,” she said.The Hungarian law was signed Wednesday by Hungarian president Janos Ader after Hungary’s parliament passed the bill last week. It prohibits sharing content on homosexuality or sex reassignment to people under 18 in school sex education programs, films or advertisements.The government says the law aims to protect children, but critics say it links homosexuality with pedophilia. Orban has ruled out rescinding the law, insisting it does not target homosexuals.European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she detailed the commission’s legal concerns during the summit and that it’s now up to the Hungarian government to respond.“There was an overwhelming support in the room that we will defend our values, because Europe is first of all a Union of values,” she said. “It is first of all a Union of values, of protection of minorities, of non-discrimination, and a culture of tolerance and acceptance is a bed rock against discrimination.”———Lorne Cook in Brussels and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.
The European Union’s top official said the former partners should think about their long-term relationship to put an end to the bloc’s spat with the United Kingdom over post-Brexit trade arrangementsBy SAMUEL PETREQUIN Associated PressJune 15, 2021, 9:52 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBRUSSELS — The European Union’s top official urged both sides to think about their long-term relationship and put an end to the bloc’s spat with the U.K. over post-Brexit trade arrangements.Lengthy negotiations over Britain’s divorce from the EU have already been complicated, and the practical separation between the former partners proves to be a thorny issue, too.In their latest feud, the EU is angry over the British government’s delay in implementing new checks on some goods coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K., as was agreed upon in the Brexit deal. On the other hand, Britain says those checks are imposing a big burden on U.K. businesses and destabilizing Northern Ireland’s peace.“I’ve always said I want a new beginning with old friends,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday. “We see that at the beginning now there are difficulties, and there are serious issues that have to be solved . I’m deeply convinced, with a constructive approach, and with the notion that we know it’s a long-term relationship we are building here, this issues just can be overcome.”At the heart of their dispute lies the Northern Ireland protocol, a Brexit mechanism that created a trade border in the Irish Sea to avoid creating a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. An open Irish border helped underpin the peace process that ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.“We know that the withdrawal agreement and the protocol are the best we could have gotten in a complicated situation,” Von der Leyen said. “Now it’s our duty on both sides to make sure that it works and and to implement it.”The bloc is threatening legal action if the U.K. does not fully bring in the checks, which include a ban on chilled meats from England, Scotland and Wales going to Northern Ireland beginning next month.The post-Brexit dispute has raised political tensions in Northern Ireland, where some people identify as British and some as Irish. U.S. President Joe Biden has even been drawn into the spat, raising concerns about the potential threat to Northern Ireland’s peace accord.Relations between the EU and the U.K. have been strained since a Brexit transition period ended on Jan. 1. The two sides have also argued so far this year over issues ranging from COVID-19 vaccine supplies to the full diplomatic recognition of the EU in Britain.