Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The European Court of Justice (ECJ) today dismissed challenges brought by Hungary and Poland against a European Commission sanction intended to stop EU funding for the two countries because of their breaches of EU laws.
“Today’s judgements confirm that we are on the right track”, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared. Commending the rulings, the EC head said the Commission would decide on its course of action in the coming weeks.
Hungary and Poland have been accused by international rights groups of eroding the rule of law and civil rights in their respective countries, with both Warsaw and Budapest disagreeing with the Commission on a variety of issues ranging from media freedoms and an independent judiciary to migration issues.
“Hungary and Poland have been rapidly backsliding on media freedom, independence of judges, the right to protest, and other fundamental tenets of the rule of law”, Amnesty International warned. “Instead of trying to oppose EU funds being conditional on respect for the rule of law, they should respect people’s rights and clean up their act.”
The Commission already froze payments to Poland and Hungary from the pandemic recovery fund. Warsaw had been slated to receive some 36 billion euro, while Budapest was to receive around 7 billion.
The so-called “conditionality mechanism”, designed to block EU funding in the event that fundamental rights abuses might affect any part of the EU budget, was set at 1.8 trillion euro for the period between 2021 and 2027.
Poland, which is at odds with the Commission over its refusal to abolish a controversial disciplinary chamber for judges, accused the EC of abusing its power. “We need to defend ourselves against an attack on our sovereignty”, the country’s Deputy Justice Minister, Sebastian Kaleta, stated. “Poland has to defend its democracy against blackmail that aims to take away our right to decide about ourselves.”
Both Poland and Hungary reportedly threatened to retaliate against Brussels by stalling other EU decisions requiring anonymity, such as climate and energy policies, as well as issues related to the Union’s foreign policy.