Thursday, 26 Nov 2020

EU on brink: Hungary and Poland warned they ‘can no longer be members’ if values ignored

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The European Union has been increasingly locking horns with both Poland and Hungary because of national policies the bloc has denounced as undermining the core values of the bloc. On Monday, officials from both Eastern European countries walked out from budget talks after refusing to agree to the inclusion of a rule of law mechanism that could stop the cash flow if there is any violation of common values. EU Law professor Alessandro Alemanno suggested Brussels should make clear attempts to go against key principles could seriously affect Poland and Hungary’s membership of the bloc.

Speaking to Euronews, Prof Alemanno said: “If you want to be a member of the European Union, you have to respect the rule of law.

“That means you need to have a judiciary that is independent. You need to have a media which is absolutely free to say what they want within the Constitutional limitations.

“Those violations have been occurring for far too long, they’ve been systemic, they’ve been persistent, they’ve been recognised by all kinds of organisations.”

Poland and Hungary have both been accused of curtailing the rights of LGBT minorities as well as limiting the freedom of the press and educational institutions. 

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Prof Alemanno added: “It’s not possible, it’s no longer acceptable to be a member of the European Union like Poland and Hungary, to receive European Union funds and not respect the rule of the law.”

In 2020, the EU launched Article 7 proceeding for the first time since the creation of its Treaty of the European Union in a bid to push Warsaw to backtrack on proposed judiciary system reforms.

Under Article 7, member states found to be in breach of key European values – which include democracy, equality and the rule of law – could see their voting rights in the European Parliament and European Council suspended.

Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “After two years, the Commission can only conclude that there is now a clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law.”

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MEPs from several political blocs in the European Parliament demanded the Council agree to the inclusion of a rule of law conditionality before backing the £1.6 billion seven-year budget proposed by the European Commission.

Countries could see their share of the budget freezer should claims of violation of the rule of law, corruption or conflict of interests emerge.

The agreement Hungary and Poland rejected said: “Under the terms of the provisional agreement, the conditionality regime allows the EU budget to be protected where it has been established that breaches of the principles of the rule of law that have occurred in a member state affect, or seriously risk affecting, the sound financial management of the EU budget or the protection of the financial interests of the EU in a sufficiently direct way.

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“The provisional agreement covers all EU funds, including resources allocated through the Next Generation EU recovery instrument.”

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pleaded with the Hungarian and Polish governments to reconsider their positions to ensure the bloc can agree on a new budget and move its focus on rolling-out financial help under the coronavirus rescue fund.

President von der Leyen said: “We’re now working with the rotating presidency who’s leading the efforts to find a solution.

“We all know that millions of European businesses and citizens are waiting for the answer in the midst of this unprecedented crisis.

“The strength of our union has always been to overcome difficult situations by engaging with each other so we continue to work hard to reach an agreement soon.”

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