Budapest, Hungary, Aug 5, 2022 / 01:04 am (CNA).
The European Commission's 2022 Rule of Law report has once again singled out Poland and Hungary, accusing both countries of not addressing "serious concerns," including breaches in their judiciary and media systems. The report identified stark differences between the EU and the two countries. But one Polish member of the European Parliament has raised serious questions about the legitimacy of the report.
The annually published document, initiated in 2020, is meant to provide a general overview of the state of the rule of law in all 27 member states and includes tips for democratic improvements.
Considered the EU's poor performers in terms of respect for the rule of law for years, the conservative and Eurosceptic governments of the two Eastern European countries claim to be under attack from progressive forces in the EU leadership for refusing to accept their political agenda, particularly on issues relating to life, gender, LGBT groups, and immigration.
The rule of law report particularly criticized Poland for its system of disciplinary proceedings against judges that are, according to the Commission, based on the content of their judicial decisions. The country's legal system is considered too favorable to the current right-wing government.
The announcement by Polish President Andrzej Duda to abolish the disciplinary chamber for judges and replace it with a new "Chamber of Professional Responsibility" last February wasn't considered sufficient by the European executive. The commission has therefore frozen the 35 billion euros from the EU's Covid Recovery Fund approved in June, saying the Polish government should reverse its judicial policies before having access to those funds.
For the same reasons, the country – which has been praised by the international community these past months for its handling of the Ukrainian refugee crisis – is also facing a daily fine of 1 million euros.
This penalty was imposed by the European Court of Justice in October 202, with an accumulated total of at least 237 million euros to date.
The situation is also critical for Hungary, which remains under the so-called "conditionality mechanism" that provides for the suspension of European funds in case of breaches of the rule of law standards by a European government. It has little chance of seeing any post-pandemic financial support approved in the near future.
The Commission's report stated concerns about judicial independence in Hungary, particularly concerning the system of appointment and promotion of judges – "remain unaddressed" and that it didn't implement sufficient safeguards against corruption. The report also denounced continued pressure on civil society organizations and repression of independent media.
In a Facebook post on July 13, Minister of Justice Judit Varga reacted to the report by saying that it came as "no surprise" and that the Hungarian government remained "on the side of calm and professional dialogue in this pressure which [they] already got used to." She considered that the report was, "like in previous years," based on "uncertain indexes, biased NGOs and prejudices."
This idea that these repeated criticisms of the EU have an ideological basis is regularly raised by the members of Hungarian and Polish governments, that denounce a "double standard" in the way reporting and sanctions are established, depending on whether a government is conservative or progressive. For them, the conditionality mechanisms are used for political purposes. Indeed, Poland and Hungary are among the largest net recipients of European funds, and the loss of these amounts of money could have economic repercussions likely to destabilize these countries politically.
In an interview with CNA, Polish Member of Parliament Ryszard Legutko, from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, claimed that while for countries like France or Germany, the rule of law report relied on official documents from state institutions, it was based on "opinions from political opponents and hostile NGOs" when it came to Poland.
He called into question the very legitimacy of this annual report, stating that the European Commission "is not a super-government or some super-court to judge the member states' legal systems, especially since those are within the sole competencies of the member states." "With the Commission blocking Poland's post-Covid recovery plan, it has become clear that Ursula von der Leyen [the Commission's President] and her colleagues want to topple the Polish government," he commented, denouncing a "more and more politically aggressive" institution.
"The worst violator of the rule of law in Europe is the EU itself, as it persistently sidesteps all limitations that the treaties imposed on it, particularly article 5 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which stipulates the principles of conferral, subsidiarity, and proportionality," he said.
The same criticism was leveled last year by Polish religious leaders and Catholic lawyers against the European Parliament following its adoption of a resolution to condemn the ban on eugenic abortion in Poland. In this resolution, the Parliament asked the European Commission to trigger the rule of law mechanism and suspend funds to Poland until the country modifies its constitution to liberalize abortion.
According to MEP Legutko, the conservative essence of the Polish and Hungarian governments and their refusal to join "the EU mainstream" motivates many of the accusations against them. "When Slovenia had a conservative government, it was also attacked," he pointed out.
The parliamentarian added that the leaders of these institutions mainly targeted the Christian foundations of these conservative governments.
"Despite the weakening of Christianity in Europe, hostility towards the Christian religion is growing among the European institutions; there is nothing paradoxical about it," he said. "Christianity is still perceived as a force that resists the moral revolution conducted by the Left, like abortion, same-sex marriage, gender ideology, green revolution, etc."
"The European People's Party [a transnational organization gathering Christian-democratic, conservative, and liberal-conservative member parties, and that represents today the largest political party in the European Parliament and Commission] has long capitulated and accepted the left-wing agenda and ideologies," Legutko continued.
"Christian Democracy, in fact, has disappeared from European politics. It is therefore quite understandable that countries like Poland, which still has a strong Catholic culture and community, and resists the current moral revolution, are met with aggressive reactions from the EU," he concluded. "And this aggression will increase until or unless Poland capitulates. I hope it won't."