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Brussels slams Hungary and Poland in rule of law report

Calls mount to withhold funds over rule of law breaches

20 July, 16:46
(ANSA-AFP) - BRUSSELS, JUL 20 - The European Commission sounded alarm over judicial independence, media freedom and anti-graft efforts in Hungary and Poland in a report Tuesday, as calls mount to withhold funds over rule of law breaches. The warnings from Brussels follow a stream of criticism against the right-wing administrations in Hungary and Poland that has seen the EU begin a slew of legal cases over alleged breaches of the bloc's rules and values. The latest charges come in the EU's second annual report examining press freedom, justice systems and official checks and balances across the 27 nation bloc, released Tuesday. They were published as Brussels mulls plans from Budapest and Warsaw on how to spend their share of the EU's 800-billion-euro Covid recovery package. The commission laid out "serious concerns" over judicial independence in both Poland and Hungary, and lambasted Budapest for not doing enough to tackle the "risks of clientelism, favouritism and nepotism" at the top levels of government. There were also worries about the shrinking space for independent media -- a particularly sensitive subject after Hungarian authorities denied reports they used Pegasus spyware to target journalists. The European Commission last week launched its latest legal actions against the two conservative governments in response to measures seen as discriminating against LGBTQ citizens. Brussels is furious with Hungary for enacting a so-called "anti-paedophilia" law, banning the "promotion" of homosexuality and gender reassignment to under-18s, that EU leaders have complained stigmatises the LGBTQ community. Poland is being targeted after around 100 towns and villages established "LGBT-ideology-free zones", which cover about a third of the traditionally Catholic country. The clamour over the latest standoff has added to calls for Brussels to withhold EU funding, with MEPs demanding the commission take a tougher stance on rule of law breaches. The bloc last year agreed to link budget payments to respect for rule of law in a landmark move tied to the mammoth recovery plan -- but Hungary and Poland won a delay to it coming into force. In the wake of the anger over Budapest's anti-LGBTQ legislation, Brussels last week missed a self-imposed deadline to approve Hungary's 7.2 billion euros spending plan for the post-pandemic funds. The EU is also facing another major headache with Poland after the country's Constitutional Court ruled any interim measures issued by the EU Court of Justice against controversial judicial reforms were "not in line" with the Polish constitution.

Brussels sent a note Tuesday to the Polish authorities demanding they conform with recent decisions by the EU court or face financial penalties. (ANSA-AFP).

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