EU: Brussels prepares new ammunition against Hungary and Poland | International

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Brussels wants to put new ammunition on the table against the countries of the East. Tired of the bitter tug of war with Poland and Hungary, which threaten to blow up core EU values ​​such as judicial independence and respect for the LGTBI community, the European Commission is ready to launch the so-called conditionality mechanism before the end of October, a tool created to ensure that not one euro of the historic recovery funds ends up in the hands of those who violate the rule of law. The mechanism was in limbo, awaiting a ruling from the European court. But the Community Executive is willing to accelerate the pace. “The tool is too mature not to start it”, has assured the vice president of the Community Executive Vera Jourová to a small group of media, including MRT.

The measure, which was born as a safeguard for the European budget and the multimillion-dollar Next Generation program agreed last year to alleviate the crisis caused by the covid-19 pandemic, will target Warsaw and Budapest, antagonists of a long and tense battle with the community executive for the illiberal drift of their governments.

Its creation was one of the great debates of last autumn in Brussels: an uncomfortable china in the shoe that was on the verge of taking the recovery funds ahead. It took blood, sweat and a lot of virtual, face-to-face and mixed meeting to get it done. It ended up adopting a lax definition that pursues the violation of the rule of law when it “affects or threatens to seriously affect the sound financial management of the Union budget or the protection of the financial interests of the Union.” It entered into force this year, but its application was left up in the air when its potential victims – surprise: Hungary and Poland – challenged its legality by understanding that it interfered with the internal competences of the Member States. They appealed against it in March to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU).

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The hearing has not yet been held in Luxembourg – scheduled for October 11 and 12 – and the ruling is not there and is not expected for several months. But the European Parliament, which has raised the flag of the defense of the rule of law, has in recent times been increasing the pressure on the Executive of the community bloc to force it to act immediately.

In July, the European Parliament called on the Commission “to quickly investigate” any possible infringement of the principles of the rule of law “that affects or runs the serious risk of affecting the sound financial management of the Union budget”, noting that “the situation in some Member States already warrants immediate action ”. MEPs demanded that the Executive of Ursula von der Leyen report the first cases under investigation before the end of October, and threatened Brussels with taking its inaction to the European courts.

The president of the Commission is the one who will have the last word, but some of the cases are already under the scrutiny of the EU Anti-Fraud Office, and Brussels intends to take the first step to activate the procedure in just three weeks, indicate sources from the Executive . Von der Leyen does not seem willing to end up cornered by the European Parliament and faced a case before the European Court in Luxembourg for not having acted with force and determination to combat the antidemocratic cannon shots that arrive from Hungary and Poland. From there, a tug of war will begin that will start with the notification of infractions to the affected capitals.

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Commissioner Vera Jourová, one of the most active voices of the commissars’ college in the face of the authoritarian drift of some community partners, believes that with this new bullet, Brussels already has a fairly complete menu to face countries that put autonomy in check of judges, subjecting them to strict disciplinary control, allow the creation of so-called anti-LGTBI zones or set up an ideological front to deprive children of access to the most elementary issues of gender education. “It is about protecting European money,” adds the Czech commissioner.

To deploy its effects, and close the tap on community budgets, the cases presented by Brussels will have to pass a vote in the Council, the body where the 27 countries sit and in which any slap on the wrist has traditionally been stuck to Poland and Hungary on account of EU values. Until now, the Union had opened files to both countries through Article 7 of the EU Treaty, for violating fundamental values, but they have never come to fruition because they have never come to fruition because very high majorities are required (four fifths parts of the Council) or unanimity – and among the designated and cornered friends they always end up protecting each other.

In contrast, the cross-compliance mechanism only needs a qualified majority for approval. Executive sources estimate that, if launched in October, the cases could reach a Council vote by the second half of 2022. But only their activation by the Commission could harm, for example, the Government of Viktor Orbán, facing an election scheduled for spring 2022.

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Arsenal against Poland

The economic argument, Brussels believes, may end up showing the way to Budapest and Warsaw. Especially if the fronts multiply. The community executive also has the multimillion-dollar recovery plans as a lever. Poland and Hungary are among the few countries whose anti-crisis funds have not yet received the green light (neither are Sweden, Finland and Estonia, nor those of Bulgaria and the Netherlands, which have not yet formally submitted them).

The negotiation with Poland, which aspires to receive a juicy figure of 36,000 million euros, is somewhat more on track, detail sources from the Community Executive, who estimate that the fund could be unlocked in November. The Commission intends to agree on a plan with milestones that the Government of Mateusz Morawiecki, from the ultra-conservative formation Law and Justice (PiS), must comply with in order to receive the disbursements.

Among these steps, Brussels intends to demand that Warsaw dismantle the Disciplinary Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court, an all-powerful body that can sanction judges who apply the primacy of European law or raise preliminary questions before the CJEU. Although the PiS government pledged to reform it in August, it has not yet taken concrete steps.

At the beginning of September, the Commission began two proceedings in order to impose millions in fines on Poland if it does not reverse this and other measures of its judicial system, which Brussels considers a serious threat to the independence of judges. Poland, in turn, is challenging the EU with a still pending decision from its Constitutional Court, which could come to question one of the basic pillars of the community bloc: the primacy of EU law over national law.

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