23 March 2023,   22:12
EU tells Hungary, Poland to step up their democracy game

The European Union told Hungary and Poland to improve judicial and media independence, as well as anti-graft safeguards, saying conditions to unlock billions in aid for the two have not been met and serious concerns persist, writes the Reuters.

“The assessment came in the EU executive’s new rule of law report, which includes tips for democratic improvements in all of the bloc’s 27 member states, from better financial disclosure by officials to digitalisation of public administration.

But eyes are on the two former communist countries where eurosceptic governments have been fighting increasingly bitter battles with the EU over migration, human rights, environmental affairs and democratic values.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine is another reminder of the importance of our work to uphold and promote rule of law in the EU and beyond. We can only remain credible if our own house is in order”, - European Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova said in presenting the report.

The Brussels-based Commission is withholding Budapest’s access to 15.5 billion euros of stimulus funds meant to help lift economies from the COVID dip, and to another 36 billion euros envisaged to Poland. The Commission has already approved payouts for 25 member countries. Poland is in that group but it has not received any money yet as the Commission vows to refrain from making the actual bank transfer before the Polish judiciary is fixed.

On Wednesday, it said that “serious concerns persist related to the independence of the Polish judiciary”. It prescribed separation of the roles of justice minister and prosecutor general, improving civil society’s access to policy-making and ensuring fair process in deciding on media broadcasting licences.

“This is not about the rule of law. It is about power, it is about overthrowing a government that has a democratic mandate in Poland”, - said Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro Ziobro, reacting to the Commission. Budapest has said repeatedly over the weeks that it was ready to seal a deal with the Commission but the executive has reported insufficient progress from Hungary”, - writes the author.