Rule of Law Update – January 2023

News from the courts

Cases CJEU

  • Requests for preliminary ruling:

C-373/22 – NE 08/06/2022 (Bulgaria)

Charges were brought against NE in proceedings before the Spetsializiran nakazatelen sad (Specialised Criminal Court; ‘the referring court’). At the preliminary hearing in this case, NE sought the disqualification of the court, since he questions the impartiality of both the judge to whom the case has been assigned and all the judges of the referring court.

C-603/22 – M.S. e.a. 26/08/22 (Poland)

In the period from 9 February to 8 March 2022, the judge speaking alone in the present case was removed from her judicial office by order of the Minister of Justice. The referring court doubts whether an executing authority such as the Minister of Justice may, at the pre-trial phase and during the judicial proceedings, intervene in the process of direct application of EU law by linking powers of supervision of the courts with the powers arising from the exercise of the office of Attorney General.

C-711/22 – Advance Pharma 26/05/22 (Poland)

On 3 February 2022, the ECtHR found a violation of Article 6(1) ECHR. The ECtHR also stated that the judicial formation involved in the case is not a “court established by law”. Subsequently, in May 2022, the applicant requested the reopening of the national procedure. The applicant claims that refusal to reopen as a result of the ECtHR judgment may lead to the deprivation of the guarantee of effective judicial protection.

C-634/22 – O.T. e.a. 28/09/22 (Bulgaria)

While the criminal proceedings against O.T. were pending in 2019, the proposal for the Bulgarian law amending and supplementing the law on the judiciary, which provides for the abolition of the Bulgarian special criminal court (SNS), was the subject of public debate. The court is of the opinion that the dissolution of the SNS, in the way it has been carried out and with the reasons put forward, is contrary to the principle of the rule of law, undermines the independence of that court and the separation of powers, and that pressure is thus exerted by the legislature and the executive. The question is, inter alia, whether EU law should be interpreted as undermining the independence of a court that is abolished by the adopted amendment to the Bulgarian law on the organization of the judiciary, whereby the courts must, however, continue to deal with cases until that time, and must also subsequently continue the handling of cases in which preliminary hearings have already taken place.

C-658/22 – Sąd Najwyższy 02/09/22 (Poland)

Given that the majority of judges of the Civil Chamber – namely judges appointed before 2018 – had expressed doubts about the regularity of the appointments of judges in the Sąd Najwyższy (Supreme Court) by the Polish President since 2018, the Sąd Najwyższy considered it justified to to ask a preliminary question about the regularity of the composition of the judicial formation. The question is, inter alia, whether a court of a Member State adjudicating at last instance, which includes persons appointed as judges in breach of that Member State’s fundamental rules of law on the appointment of judges, is an independent, impartial tribunal that pre-established by law and which ensures effective legal protection for individuals in the fields covered by Union law.

  • Orders:

Order – 07/11/2022 – FX and Others (Effet des arrêts d’une Cour constitutionnelle III)
Case C-859/19 (Joined Cases C-859/19, C-926/19, C-929/19)

Preliminary questions about i.a. the interpretation of art 2 TEU, art 19(1) TEU and Decision 2006/928. The Court decided national law/practice is not precluded which prescribes that the decisions of the national constitutional court are binding on ordinary courts, provided the independence of that constitutional court is guaranteed by national law. Yet, precluded is national law that can trigger disciplinary liability of national judges of ordinary courts when they fail to comply with the decisions of the national constitutional court.

  • AG Opinions

Opinion AG Collins 15/12/22 in GC cases C-615/20 and C-671/20 – Y.P. e.a. and M.M. ECLI:EU:C:2022:986 (Poland)

The preliminary questions concern the compatibility with EU law of certain aspects of the recent reform of the Polish judicial system, more specifically, the permission granted by the Disciplinary Chamber to prosecute and suspend a judge, thereby depriving him or her of the right to adjudicate certain criminal cases assigned to that judge. AG Collins argues that Article 2 TEU and the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU and the principles of primacy of Union law, sincere cooperation and legal certainty require all public authorities to reverse the unlawful effects of decisions of the Disciplinary Chamber authorizing the prosecution, detention and suspension of judges in criminal matters and thereby enable a suspended judge to sit on that court, except in cases assigned to another formation which has the capacity of an independent, impartial tribunal pre-established by law.

Opinion AG Collins 15/12/22 in GC cases C-181/21 and C-269/21 – G. en BC en DC ECLI:EU:C:2022:990 (Poland)

The referring court raises questions regarding the independence and procedure of appointment of a judge before an ordinary court. According to the AG, the condition that a court must be established by law applies to all courts in a national legal order, regardless of the level at which they exercise their jurisdiction. The AG concludes that there are structural doubts about the independence and impartiality of the judges appointed under the present procedure.

Opinion AG Collins 15/12/22 in GC case C-204/21 (Commission v. Poland) ECLI:EU:C:2022:991

Infringement proceedings by the Commission against Poland on the basis that provisions of the Polish amending law are contrary to Article 19(1) second subparagraph TEU, Article 47 EU Charter, Article 267 TFEU, the principle of primacy of Union law. In its action, the Commission puts forward five pleas in law. The AG also argues that the Polish law amending the rules on the organization of ordinary courts and of the Sąd Najwyższy (Supreme Court) is contrary to EU law. The breach of Union law consists, inter alia, of depriving national courts of the ability to ensure that Union law is applied in all cases by an independent and impartial tribunal.

Opinion AG Collins 26/01/23 in case C-817/21 ECLI:EU:C:2023:55 (Romania)

The referring court raises questions regarding whether a body, such as the Judicial Inspectorate, must offer the same guarantees of independence and impartiality as are required of courts under EU law. According to AG Collins, EU law precludes national legislation making the Deputy Chief Inspector responsible for overseeing the investigation of complaints against the Chief Inspector

Cases ECtHR

  • Judgments:

Rutar en Rutar Marketing D.O.O. t. Slovenië (21164/20),15/12/22 ECLI:CE:ECHR:2022:1215JUD002116420

The Court notes that neither the Nova Gorica Court nor the Constitutional Court responded in any way to the applicants’ request for a preliminary ruling from the CJEU, nor to any other legal argument. The Court therefore concludes that there is a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

Kalda v. Estonia (No. 2) (Application no. 14581/20) 06/12/22 ECLI:CE:ECHR:2022:1206JUD001458120

In the case concerning the blanket ban on prisoners’ voting in Estonia, the court decided there had been no violation of Article 3 of Protocol 1 (right to free elections) to the ECHR. As a result of the ban, the applicant, a prisoner serving a life sentence for various serious crimes, had been prevented from voting in the 2019 European Parliament Elections.

  • Referral to Grand Chamber:

Grosam v. the Czech Republic (19750/13), 14/11/22 ECLI:CE:ECHR:2022:0623JUD001975013

The Czech applicant in the present case complains, inter alia, that no appeal was possible against the decision of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Administrative Court, despite the fact that it could not be considered the “supreme tribunal” given its composition and the lack of sufficient safeguards with regard to its expertise and independence. In its Chamber judgment of 23 June 2022 (https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng-press?i=003-7367334-10067243), the Court ruled that the Disciplinary Chamber did not meet the requirements of an “independent and impartial tribunal” and that the complainant was therefore denied a fair trial.

News from the Member States and the EU

  • Bulgaria

A large protest was held in front of the Bulgarian National Assembly against legislative amendments to the Bulgarian Electoral Code, which returns voting with paper ballots despite that machine voting has eliminated electoral problems in Bulgaria in the recent years (EURACTIV).

In response to criticism by the European Commission, Bulgaria has revoked 12 golden passports (which grant citizenship to wealthy third-country investors). Five procedures are still pending (EURACTIV).

Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor Geshev has been alleged of conducting corrupt actions by facilitating the blackmailing of incumbent ministers with criminal charges – potentially jeopardizing “the stability and security of NATO allies in Europe” (EURACTIV).

  • Czech Republic

Former Czech PM Andrej Babiš has been acquitted for alleged fraud to facilitate building a congress center with EU subsidies (EURACTIV).   

  • Cyprus

Also spyware issues in Cyprus, were the authorities allegedly engaged in surveillance activities that benefitted powerful Russians (EURACTIV).

  • Greece

A new list of wiretapped journalists and politicians was published, as part of a big spyware scandal that has put the incumbent Greek government in trouble (EURACTIV). Androulakis, MEP and head of Greek socialist party, whose phone was bugged, filed a complaint before the CJEU (EURACTIV). In response to the “Greek Watergate”, the troubled Greek Government has banned the sale on spyware (EURACTIV). But press freedom and the rule of law in general are at stake here, according to different interest groups (EURACTIV; EURACTIV).

The Greek Watergate, in combination with Qatargate (which led to the arrest of Greek MEP and EP Vice-President Eva Kaili), might have significant effects to upcoming Greek elections, which will be held in toxic circumstances (EURACTIV; EURACTIV; EURACTIV)

The Greek privacy authority (ADAE) has decided to check the records of telecommunications companies to find out who is under surveillance by Greek secret services (EURACTIV). However, the Greek chief prosecutor Ntogiako ruled that based on new law, ADAE cannot conduct such audits and criminal penalties could be applicable (EURACTIV).

It caused a wave of reactions. Strong responses followed from the European Parliament (EURACTIV), some suggesting Greece is heading towards autocracy (EURACTIV). The European Parliament’s PEGA committee stressed the importance of protecting the independence of the authority of the ADAE (EURACTIV).

Main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras announced he would reveal names of Greek politicians that have been wiretapped by the secret services (EURACTIV).

Meanwhile a criminal trial of NGO humanitarian workers on Lesbos has started. They face charges concerning espionage, assisting smuggling networks, membership of a criminal organisation and money laundering (EURACTIV). In a 2021 LIBE report, the trial was called “the largest case of criminalisation of solidarity in Europe” (LIBE Report).

The Greek government faced a no-confidence vote on January 27 (EUOBSERVER; EUOBSERVER).

  • Hungary

According to some sources, Hungary agreed with the EU on unlocking the covid recovery funds (5.8 billion Euros) in exchange for judicial reforms, relating to the strengthened National Judicial Council that will ensure the appointment to key judicial positions (POLITICO; POLITICO; EURACTIV). Hungary needs the money, as it is facing high inflation and ongoing economic difficulties (EURACTIV). In the meantime, Hungarian teachers have been striking for better working conditions, to which the government responded by firing some who participated in civil disobedience (EURACTIV; EURACTIV).

The EC decided to unblock the funds, provided the fulfilment of 27 supermilestones by Hungary, aimed at strengthening the independence of the judiciary, auditing rules and control on the utilization of the EU funds (which notably include the 17 commitments on the basis of the conditionality mechanism). These supermilestones can be regarded as an incentive for the Hungarian government to reform (EURACTIV).

Apart from the recovery funds, Hungary is not likely to receive a substantial part (7.5 billion Euros) of the cohesion funds. The European Parliament adopted a resolution urging the Commission to stay with its earlier proposal to suspend the funds (EURACTIV). While the Hungarian government had taken 17 measures relating to public procurement, conflicts of interest and corruption, the European Commission recommended the freezing of the EU funds under the rule of law conditionality mechanism, since “important weaknesses and risks remain” to the EU’s budgetary interests (POLITICO; EURACTIV ; EUOBSERVER).

During the Council meetings, the Hungarian government had put pressure on the Member States to unfreeze the cohesion funds by vetoing the EU Ukraine aid (18 billion Euros) as well as a directive ensuring 15% minimum corporate tax, which caused anger with other Member States (POLITICO; POLITICO; EURACTIV; EUOBSERVER; EUOBSERVER) Orban’s reputation was already damaged in surrounding Member States after wearing a nationalist scarf (EURACTIV). Eventually, the Hungarian government agreed on Ukraine loan and minimum tax, in exchange for a freeze of 6.3 billion Euros (instead of 7.5 billion Euros) (POLITICO; EURACTIV; EURACTIV; EURACTIV; EURACTIV ; EUOBSERVER). The Hungarian government nonetheless explains the low EU corruption rating as a conspiracy (EUOBSERVER).

Hungary has blamed a conspiracy for coming bottom in an EU corruption rating as it seeks to unfreeze European funding.

  • Poland

Whereas Poland has been cooperative concerning its stance to Ukraine (EURACTIV), the country had nonetheless been blocking the minimum tax directive to force the unfreezing of the EU recovery funds (35 billion euros) (EURACTIV). After Poland had received a concrete pathway to unblock the funds by addressing rule of law issues aimed at judicial independence (the “milestones”) (EURACTIV), the Member State agreed to drop its veto on the minimum tax (EURACTIV; POLITICO). Many Polish citizens are in favor of implementation of the reforms (EUARACTIV) and regard the further legislative development critical for outcome upcoming Polish elections (EURACTIV; POLITICO). The Polish Parliament discussed the milestones and started working on it on January 11 (EURACTIV; POLITICO; POLITICO).

Meanwhile, Igor Tuleya – who has been very critical of the current rule of law situation in Poland – can resume his office as judge again after being suspended for over two years for allegedly enabling public disclosure of information (EURACTIV).

  • Romania

According to the European Commission, Romania’s progress on judicial reform and anti-corruption measures has been sufficient. Hence, it has stopped the monitoring under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) (EURACTIV)

  • Slovakia

Several Slovak political parties have forwarded the idea to create a constitutional block on electoral system reforms, to prevent future situations in which a longtime rule, such as in Hungary, can be made possible (EURACTIV)  

  • EU-wide

European Court of Auditors (ECA) has started an investigation into the European Commission’s effective defense of the EU’s financial interests in the ongoing rule of law issues in some Member States (EUOBSERVER).  

MEPs are worried about the expanding surveillance spyware in the EU, but new rules are unlikely according to experts, as the Member States are probably not in favor of increasing oversight (EURACTIV). The EP’s special PEGA committee has adopted recommendations to address the spyware scandal, including some country-specific recommendations (EURACTIV).

Over to another scandal: Qatargate.

One of the biggest corruption scandals in EU history was revealed on December 9 concerning criminal organizations infiltrating the EP and interference of EU politics by Qatar. The Belgian secret service for more than a year to uncover the scandal, working closely with other Member States (EURACTIV). Several raides were performed discovering suitcases full of cash money. Vice president to the EP Eva Kaili was charged with corruption, taken into custody (EURACTIV) and unanimously removed as vice president (EURACTIV). She exposed herself after voting and speaking in favor of Qatar several times (EURACTIV). Former MEP Antonio Panzeri, arguably the mastermind behind Qatargate, was also arrested but has decided to collaborate with Belgian prosecutor office to lower his sentence (EURACTIV; EURACTIV; EURACTIV).MEP Marc Angel, has replaced Kaili as vice president of the EP (EURACTIV).

In response, many urged for critical debates on improving rules of ethics (EURACTIV; POLITICO), as the Qatargate scandal exposed “an ecosystem of corruption in the European Parliament” (EURACTIV; EURACTIV; EUOBSERVER). The president of the EP, Roberta Metsola, forwarded a plan on financial declarations and contacts with lobbyists to restore trust (EURACTIV; EUOBSERVER). The Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs committee unanimously adopted amendments to the EP Rules of Procedure to grant EPPO discretion to lift legal immunity for MEPs suspected of grave offences (EURACTIV).

Further readings and media

  • Jakab, András: Three misconceptions about the EU rule of law crisis, VerfBlog, 2022/10/17, https://verfassungsblog.de/misconceptions-rol/, DOI: 10.17176/20221017-162426-0.
  • Lübbe-Wolff, Gertrude: How to Prevent Blockage of Judicial Appointments, VerfBlog, 2022/10/07, https://verfassungsblog.de/how-to-prevent-blockage-of-judicial-appointments/, DOI: 10.17176/20221007-230820-0.
  • Jaraczewski, Jakub: Unexpected Complications: The impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the rule of law crisis in the EU: An anti-rule of law alliance, VerfBlog, 2022/12/23, https://verfassungsblog.de/unexpected-complications-the-impact-of-the-russian-invasion-of-ukraine-on-the-rule-of-law-crisis-in-the-eu/, DOI: 10.17176/20221224-001629-0.
  • Nguyen, Thu: The Hungary Files: Untangling the political and economic knots, VerfBlog, 2022/12/08, https://verfassungsblog.de/the-hungary-files/, DOI: 10.17176/20221209-001524-0.
  • Ruiz Robledo, Agustín: An Institutional Crisis that Dissolved Like a Sugar Cube, VerfBlog, 2023/1/05, https://verfassungsblog.de/an-institutional-crisis-that-dissolved-like-a-sugar-cube/, DOI: 10.17176/20230106-001557-0.

Rule of law update – October 2022

News from the courts

  • Decisions CJEU

C-480/21 (Order of Court, 12 july 2022): Reference for a preliminary ruling – Article 99 of the Rules of Procedure of the Court of Justice – Judicial cooperation in criminal matters – European arrest warrant – Framework Decision 2002/584/JHA – Article 1(3) – Surrender procedure between Member States – Conditions for execution – Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – Second paragraph of Article 47 – Fundamental right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law – Systemic or generalised deficiencies – Two-step examination – Criteria for application – Obligation of the executing judicial authority to determine, specifically and precisely, whether there are substantial grounds for believing that the person in respect of whom a European arrest warrant has been issued, if surrendered, runs a real risk of breach of his or her fundamental right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law

  • Decisions ECtHR

No relevant decisions rendered.

  • Communicated cases CJEU

No relevant communications rendered.

  • Communicated cases ECtHR

The ECtHR has communicated 37 cases against Poland relating to “judicial decisions rendered by various chambers of the Supreme Court in civil or criminal cases, following appeal with regard to application for vacant judicial post, or regarding a disciplinary case involving a lawyer, or decisions by the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ). It is alleged that the judicial formations dealing with the applicants’ cases were not “independent and impartial tribunals established by law” since they included judges who had been appointed by the new NCJ. The NCJ is the constitutional body in Poland which safeguards the independence of courts and judges. It has been the subject of controversy since the entry into force of new legislation in 2017 providing, among other things, that its judicial members are no longer elected by judges but by the Sejm (the lower house of Parliament).” Note also the communication of a similar case (Botor v Poland). The latter case resembles the 2021 case of Xero Flor w Polsce sp. z o.o. v. Poland, were the Court eventually held unanimously that article 6(1) (right to a fair trial and right to a tribunal established by law) had been violated.

Another communicated case against Bulgaria (C-373/22 – N.E) also concerned the question whether the court at hand could be regarded an independent or impartial tribunal in the meaning of EU law. It concerned a court, seised in a criminal case and at the same time a defendant in a claim for damages brought by a suspect in this criminal case, which is based on an unlawful act by this court.

News from the Member States and the EU

  • Czech Republic

On 12 September, the trial against former Czech prime minister Babiš opened concerning his alleged role in the misuse of EU funds worth two million euros (EUObserver).

  • Greece

Following several comments by MEPs and the EC on the wiretapping scandal in Greece – involving the use of the illegal spy-software Predator to wiretap the phone of an opposition leader in Greece by the administration of PM Mitsotakis (EUObserver) – the Greek government claimed the EU lacked competence to dwell on security measures taking place within the Member State (Politico). In the recently created special inquiry committee on spyware (PEGA) by the EP, the Predator revelations in Greece were also discussed. Some argued it undermines the rule of law in Greece (EUObserver).   

  • Hungary

Over the rule of law dispute, Hungary has been blocking the legislative proposal for a global minimum corporate tax rate. Alternatively, the EC is considering to inititate an enhanced cooperation deal on a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15 percent, which would not require unanimous voting (Politico).

After the historical step by the EP to publicly declare Hungary ‘no longer a democracy’ as European values are under systematic threat in the Member State (Politico; EUObserver), the EC has proposed a suspension of 65 percent of funds allocated to Hungary under three EU programs (EU cohesion policy). This cut comes down to 7.5 billion euros. (EUObserver)

However, the EC has also announced it will monitor during the fall the Hungarian progress on 17 promised reforms aimed to counter fraud and corruption in the country (EUObserver; Euractiv)). The Council will bear these findings in mind when finally deciding on the matter (Politico; Politico; Politico; Politico; EUObserver). MEPs have criticized the EC’s plan for providing Hungary an easy way out of the mechanism (EUObserver).

  • Italy

The far-right Giorgia Meloni of Fratelli d’Italia was elected as prime minister of Italy (EUObserver), a result cheered by EU’s right wing but despised by others (Politico; Politico). It could have implications for the balance in Brussels (Politico), although others argue that it will not change the internal dynamics of the EU (EUObserver). It has caused internal struggle in the EPP, as Berlusconi – also member of the EPP – supports the Meloni coalition (Politico).

The PEGA inquiry committee of the EP will start looking into Italian firm Tykelab and parent company RCS Lab in the wake of the media revelations by Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, Domani and Irpimedi about mass surveillance activities by these Italian entities (EUObserver).

  • Poland

Poland has threatened to violate its EU legal obligations if the recovery funds are not soon provided to the Member State (Politico). After the EC regarded the few Polish legislative changes (intended to meet the “milestones”) insufficient, the Polish government and the EC have not reached a compromise. The EC furthermore shrugged off the threats made by Poland (EUObserver). Although generally applauded, some have argued the lack to reach consensus might damage public faith in the EU’s neutrality (Politico).  Others condemned the milestones-option in the first place for disregarding ongoing rule of law concerns. In this light, four European associations of judges have lodged proceedings before the CJEU against the Council for approving Poland’s corona recovery plan (Politico). However, there might be standing problems before the CJEU. An exception to the standing requirements may be needed in the exceptional circumstances of this case “where a Member State fails to establish a system of legal remedies and procedures which ensure respect for the right to effective judicial protection” (see Verfassungsblog).

Despite cooler relations due to different stances on the war in Ukraine, Poland has announced it would oppose EU rule of law sanctions on Hungary (Euractiv).The Polish government has also refused to cooperate in another case: it did not show up for the EP inquiry into the use of Israeli spyware Pegasus to target Polish opposition politicians, lawyers, and prosecutors (EUObserver).

  • Spain

Věra Jourová has warned the Spanish government in a letter to urgently renew the National Council for the Judiciary (CGPJ). This body, which guarantees the independence of courts, has been acting on an interim basis for four years now. Similar concerns were stressed in the annual rule of law report by the EC (EUObserver).

  • EU-wide

On 13 September, EC President Ursula von der Leyen provided the State of the Union address. Whereas it predominantly focused on the situation in Ukraine, VDL dedicated one small part on rule of law in the EU, stressing the importance of upholding judicial independence and protecting the budget through the conditionality mechanism. According to some, VDL should have stressed more the urgency to protect democratic values (EUObserver). The announced plan for a new “Defense of Democracy package” addresses corruption and interference from outside of the EU, hence less relevant for the internal rule of law situation (Politico; Politico). A couple days after the State of the Union speech, the EC shared their proposal on a new European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), which sets new rules and standards to safeguard media freedom and pluralism in the Union (Politico; EUObserver). Not everyone shares the same enthusiasm about the draft regulation: publishers are worried the new rules enhancing the power of media regulators could limit publishers’ editorial control over their publications (Politico). The Meijers Committee organized a Conference on Media Freedom and Pluralism in EU law on 11 October 2022 in Brussels, as a response to the brand new EMFA proposal. In two panel discussions, the existing EU legal instruments as well as the draft act were discussed (find the report and recordings of the event here).

Responding to several revelations on the use of illegal spyware instruments by Member States against the political opposition, civil society, lawyers and even MEPs, Commissioner Schinas urged for legislative action to prevent intelligence and security services at a national level from violating EU fundamental rights (Politico; EUObserver). In another privacy related issue, the European Data Protection Supervisor took legal action against the Council and EP for adopting legislation that would retroactively legalize the very data-handling practices by Europol that the EDPS had earlier ruled unlawful (Politico). 

In the quest to prevent gridlock-situations on sanctions or human rights matters, EU affairs ministers have tried to get rid of the unanimity voting. Yet, they failed to reach agreement, facing too much opposition (EUObserver).

The Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) released its 2022 report on Europe’s civil society. Civil society is essential for upholding the rule of law, but it also faces multiple challenges (such as harassment and restrictive legislation) in EU Member States, according to the Agency (see FRA report)

Further readings and media

France’s new EU minister in Bled to stand up for Europe, rule of law (Euractiv, 29.08.22): https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/short_news/frances-new-eu-minister-in-bled-to-stand-up-for-europe-rule-of-law/

Scholz pitches major EU enlargement — with reform  (Politico, 29.08.22): https://www.politico.eu/article/scholz-eu-enlargement-reform-prague-charles-university/

Lesbian conference planned for Budapest to defy Orban (EUObserver, 22.09.22): https://euobserver.com/rule-of-law/155938

‘We must take back institutions’, Orban tells US conservatives (EUObserver, 05.08.22): https://euobserver.com/rule-of-law/155715

The EU and its hybrid regimes are poisoning each other (Politico, 23.08.22): https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-hybrid-regime-poison-each-other-democracy-spitzenkandidaten/

Łętowska, Ewa: Defending the Judiciary: Strategies of Resistance in Poland’s Judiciary, VerfBlog, 2022/9/27, https://verfassungsblog.de/defending-the-judiciary/

Halmai, Gábor: Coping Strategies of the Hungarian Constitutional Court since 2010, VerfBlog, 2022/9/27, https://verfassungsblog.de/coping-strategies-of-the-hungarian-constitutional-court-since-2010/

Çalı, Başak; Costello, Cathryn: Coping Strategies: Domestic and International Courts in Times of Backlash, VerfBlog, 2022/9/26, https://verfassungsblog.de/coping-strategies-domestic-and-international-courts-in-times-of-backlash/

Steinbeis, Maximilian: Wholly Autonomously, VerfBlog, 2022/9/16, https://verfassungsblog.de/wholly-autonomously/

Marin, Luisa: Frontex and the Rule of Law Crisis at EU External Borders: A Question of Legal Design?, VerfBlog, 2022/9/05, https://verfassungsblog.de/frontex-and-the-rule-of-law-crisis-at-eu-external-borders/

Kovács, Ágnes: Defective Judicial Appointments in Hungary: The Supreme Court is Once Again Embroiled in Scandal, VerfBlog, 2022/9/27, https://verfassungsblog.de/defective-judicial-appointments-in-hungary/

Kochenov, Dimitry Vladimirovich; Roy, Suryapratim: Putinism is Contagious: Blanket Visa Bans on Russian Citizens and the Rule of Law, VerfBlog, 2022/8/19, https://verfassungsblog.de/putinism-is-contagious/

Szwed, Marcin: Testing judicial independence: On the recent developments in the Polish rule of law crisis, VerfBlog, 2022/8/18, https://verfassungsblog.de/testing-judicial-independence/

Sadurski, Wojciech: Extinguishing the Court: Why There Is No Salvation for the Current Polish Constitutional Tribunal, VerfBlog, 2022/8/14, https://verfassungsblog.de/extinguishing-the-court/

Boone, Miranda: Judges on politically sensitive descisions, Leiden Law Blog 19.07.22:https://www.leidenlawblog.nl/articles/judges-on-politically-sensitive-descisions

Ucín, María Carlota: And what if the courts could strengthen our democracies? Leiden Law Blog 09.07.22: https://www.leidenlawblog.nl/articles/and-what-if-the-courts-could-strengthen-our-democracies

Rule of law update – July 2022

News from the courts

No remarkable news from the CJEU and ECtHR.

Poland

Rule of law report 2022, Country chapter Poland:

The report expressed serious concerns regarding the independence of the Polish judiciary (in particular, the perpetuating irregularities in the appointment of judges in Poland, as well as the separation of the roles of the justice minister and prosecutor general). Whereas the implementation of the anti-corruption program was finished, essential parts remained uncompleted, and concerns and risks of corruption remain. Media freedom and pluralism deteriorated, causing the EC to urge the polish government to ensure a fair way to decide on operating licences for media. Issues on checks and balances also continue, which are to be resolved.

Despite these rule of law concerns, the EC gave green light to the 35 billion euro recovery plan for Poland in June, provided that the Polish government meets certain conditions (“milestones”) to ensure an independent judiciary in Poland (on that note, see Politico article on controversial Polish judge). Whereas the Polish government has meanwhile adopted a law abolishing the controversial disciplinary chamber for judges, commissioners Jourova and Reynders as well as MEPs have deemed it insufficient to meet the milestones as Polish law lacks safeguards against the penalization of judges and the distribution of public funds is increasingly politicized (see EU Observer; EU Observer).

Hungary

Rule of law report 2022, Country chapter Hungary:

The report expressed ongoing concerns over corruption risking “clientelism, favouritism and nepotism in high-level public administration”, while the anti-corruption strategy has been postponed. The EC also raised concerns regarding the lack of judicial independence (which remains “unaddressed”), urging the Hungarian government to strengthen the role of the National Judicial Council and rules for the judicial appointments of Hungary’s Supreme Court. The system of checks and balances should be improved, as well as the media freedom and pluralism (as the independent public media is under threat).

Unlike the conditional approval of the recovery budget for Poland, Hungary has not been authorized by the EC to utilize EU recovery money, pending the rule-of-law mechanism which was triggered in April this year. According to Commissioner Reynders, the Hungarian government has still reforms to make on the rule of law and anti-corruption. (see EU Observer). Meanwhile, Hungary aims to reach agreement with the EC to unlock the pandemic funding by the end of August (Reuters; EU Observer; Euractiv), since domestic economy is facing difficult times (EU Observer; EU Observer). However, Prof. Scheppele has raised concerns about such agreement, as it would “throw away” the rule of law in Hungary (see Verfassungsblog), and other experts are also cautious (see Euractiv). Moreover, the Member State’s antagonistic stance on sensitive issues such as Russian energy and global minimum tax might complicate negotiations in the first place (see EU Observer; see also this Politico opinion, and previous Rule of Law update). Orban’s comments on “race mixing” probably does not help either (see Politico).

At the same time, some critics have argued for even further-reaching measures. According to a legal study by professors Scheppele, Kelemen, and Morijn, the EC should suspend 100 percent of EU funds to Hungary. Assessing the appropriate and proportionate financial consequences to the fundamental and widespread rule of law problems in Hungary, the report concluded that “[f]or rule of law breaches covered by the Regulation that are so fundamental, frequent or widespread that they represent a complete failure of the budgetary implementation and monitoring system in a Member State, the only measures in response that could be considered both appropriate and proportionate, would be suspensions, reductions and interruptions of 100% of the flow of EU funds.” The report was solicited by Freund (MEP Greens/EFA) and supported by MEPs from the centre right EPP, socialist S&D and the liberal Renew Europe (see EU Oberver; see also more generally, Euractiv).

Other Member States

The rule of law report also illustrates problems in other EU Member States, concerning for instance the protection of journalists (Slovenia, Malta, Greece, Ireland) and reporters (Italy), the independence of the prosecutor general (Spain), and independence of governance (Slovenia). More specifically, after the controversy of Neelie Kroes with Uber, the EC recommended the Netherlands to develop a lobbying code of conduct for ministers and other officials.

Jourova: “The EU’s rule of law report shows that there is no country or system that is perfect. Everyone has its own challenges and Germany is no exception, even though the overall situation in the country is positive.” (…) “This is why, for the first time in the report, each member state got homework to do.” (see Politico) However, the situation in Hungary and Poland is the most concerning (see Politico)

Note the very critical remarks by former Prime Minister Fico of Slovakia on the country report of his country (Euractiv).

See all country chapters as part of the Rule of Law Report 2022 here.

EU wide

On 7 July, the EP discussed the issue of Russian ties to EU political parties, turning out in a heated debate. Commissioner Jourová stressed the importance of new EC proposals on political advertising, electoral rights, and party funding (see here), as well as a new EC toolkit to help mitigate foreign interference in research and innovation (see here). Mikulas Bek of the new Czech EU presidency regarded the issue a top priority (EU Observer). Note that the EC proposed last year to allow EP political parties and foundations to collect contributions from member parties or organisations located in States beyond the EU borders, belonging to the Council of Europe (see Euractiv).

Meanwhile, apart from the Pagasus controversy (see Euractiv and Politico) several EU Member States are employing mass surveillance techniques, despite CJEU rulings (see Politico). This comes in the wake of the Pegasus scandal Defiance of EU law amongst many EU Member States appears to be a more general and widespread concern (see documentation by Politico).

Further readings and media

Scheppele, Kim Lane: Will the Commission Throw the Rule of Law Away in Hungary? , VerfBlog, 2022/7/11, https://verfassungsblog.de/will-the-commission-throw-the-rule-of-law-away-in-hungary/

Rule of law update – june 2022

NEWS FROM THE COURTS 
  • CJEU

On 28 and 29 June the hearings took place of the joint case relating to the independence of the judiciary and the state of the rule of law in Poland (C-204/21, C-615/20 C-671/20, C-181/21, C-269/21).

The AG’s opinions in these cases will be delivered on 15 December 2022.

  • ECtHR

On 16 June, the ECtHR rendered a decision in the Żurek v. Poland case.

“The applicant in this case, a judge, was also spokesperson for the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ), the constitutional body in Poland which safeguards the independence of courts and judges. In that capacity, he had been one of the main critics of the changes to the judiciary initiated by the legislative and executive branches of the new Government which came to power in 2015. The case concerned his removal from the NCJ. He alleged in particular that he had been denied access to a tribunal and that there had been no procedure, judicial or otherwise, to contest the premature termination of his mandate. He further submitted that his dismissal as spokesperson for the regional court, combined with the authorities’ decisions to audit his financial declarations and to inspect his judicial work, had been intended to punish him for expressing criticism of the Government’s legislative changes and to warn other judges off of doing the same. The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention in the present case. Following the same reasoning as in the case Grzęda v. Poland, it found that the lack of judicial review of the decision to remove the applicant from the NCJ had breached his right of access to a court. The Court also found that the accumulation of measures taken against the applicant – including his dismissal as spokesperson of a regional court, the audit of his financial declarations and the inspection of his judicial work – had been aimed at intimidating him because of the views that he had expressed in defence of the rule of law and judicial independence. In finding these violations, the Court emphasised the overall context of successive judicial reforms, which had resulted in the weakening of judicial independence and what has widely been described as the rule-of-law crisis in Poland.”

Later in June, the ECtHR issued another significant judgement on a Spanish case regarding the rights of judges: M.D. et al. v. Spain. “[T]he European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case concerned the compiling of files by the police in Catalonia on judges who had expressed certain views on that region’s independence from Spain. Material from the files, including photographs, had been subsequently leaked to the press. The Court found in particular that the mere existence of the police reports, which had not been compiled in accordance with any law, had contravened the Convention. As for the investigation into the leak, the Court found it to have been inadequate owing to the failure to interview a person crucial to the investigation, the Senior Chief of Police of Barcelona.”

The Strasbourg Court also found in Haščák v. Slovakia that Slovakia had violated Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), in a case concerning a “Gorilla operation” carried out in 2005 and 2006 by the Slovak Intelligence Service and the intelligence material obtained by it. The Court found deficiencies in the applicable rules and procedures of the surveillance operation, and the lack of external oversight.

In the case of Grosam v. the Czech Republic, the ECtHR decided that the latter was in violation of Article 6(1), as the Czech Supreme Administrative Court – sitting as a disciplinary court for enforcement officers – had issued a fine in disciplinary proceedings despite it not being an “independent and impartial tribunal” due to the lack of transparency and independence.

Poland

Despite widespread internal and external criticism, the European Commission has approved on 1 June a plan for Poland to unlock the roughly 36 billion Euros from the EU recovery fund. To access the money, Poland should meet certain conditions (“milestones”) aiming to guarantee an independent judiciary within the Member State. This includes dismantling a controversial disciplinary body for judges by the end of June, which the CJEU had declared illegal in July 2021 (the Court later imposed a daily €1 million fine when Poland failed to suspend the system). Furthermore, Poland should ensure that judges suspended by the chamber have their cases reviewed. These are the conditions for the first disbursement. An additional third milestone for the end of 2023 should guarantee a completion of the review proceedings, with a view to the reinstatement of the dismissed judges. (See Politico, EU Observer, and Euractiv).

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen defended the plan in Warsaw on 2 June, in spite of unprecedented dissent by five prominent commissioners. (See Politico and Euractiv; see the leaked five dissenting letters on Twitter)

MEPs disapproved the plan and expressed their “grave concerns”. They called on the Council to only approve the recovery plan once Poland has implemented the recent CJEU judgement, including the reinstatement of dismissed judges. (EU Observer, Euractiv)

Von der Leyen responded to the criticism by pledging not to disburse funds before Poland delivers on the first two of three conditions: abolishing the disciplinary chamber for judges and reforming the disciplinary regime. She reiterated that the third milestone – the reinstatement of dismissed judges – should be done by the end of 2023. The MEPs thought this was not enough. (EU Observer). Some MEPs even considered drawing up a motion of censure, which eventually failed support (See Euractiv, Euractiv)

Meanwhile, the Polish people seems to be split on the matter, as a third of the Poles believes that the money should not be granted until the Polish government fulfils the conditions concerning judicial independence. (Euractiv).

There was also division within the ruling PiS party on the plan, as the agreement allegedly had not been agreed on within the ruling coalition. (Euractiv). Simultaneous other concerns were expressed, for instance regarding the LGBT-free zones in Poland. Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro argued that the EU was blackmailing the local governments to withdraw these zones by depriving them of funding for i.a. infrastructure if they maintained the status quo. (Euractiv)

On that matter, a Polish appeals court ruled on 28 June that these zones were illegal and must be scrapped in four municipalities. (Euractiv)

Hungary

During the 23 May Council hearings regarding the Art 7 procedure in relation to Hungary, several concerns were expressed, i.a. on the perceived absence of a level playing field during the recent parliamentary elections, the recent state of emergency, the independence of the judiciary, and the effective access to the right of asylum. The Hungarian delegation denied all concerns. (Statewatch). On 21 June, the Unhack Democracy Conference emphasized the importantce of free and fair elections to ensure liberal democracy (EU Observer, including the recordings of the conference).

In the meantime, Hungary blocked the EU deal on minimum corporate tax rate. After Poland dropped its opposition, an agreement was expected. (EU Observer, Euractiv). Hungary allegedly uses this veto to exert pressure on the approval by the Commission of Hungary’s recovery plan (EU Observer), which is important to boost Hungary’s current problematic economic situation. (EU Observer)

Czech Republic

Just before the start of the Czech presidency of the Council, the Member State suffered a dent, as a member of the Czech coalition resigned as deputy mayor of Prague and was taken into custody on suspicion of running an organized crime operation (involving bribery) from the Prague City Hall. (EU Observer)

EU wide

During a hearing of the special inquiry committee in the EP, the Israeli NSO Group informed the MEPs that at least 5 EU Member States were using Pegasus spyware. It has been used against politicians in Poland, journalists in Hungary, and on EU level against several MEPs and commissioner Didier Reynders (EU justice). (Politico, EU Observer)

Further readings and media

Jaraczewski, Jakub: Just a Feint?: President Duda’s bill on the Polish Supreme Court and the Brussels-Warsaw deal on the rule of law, VerfBlog, 2022/6/01: https://verfassungsblog.de/just-a-feint/

Bornemann, Jonas: Green light or white flag? The European Commission’s endorsement of the Polish recovery plan and its implications for the rule of law crisis, European Law Blog, 2022/8/6: https://europeanlawblog.eu/2022/06/08/green-light-or-white-flag-the-european-commissions-endorsement-of-the-polish-recovery-plan-and-its-implications-for-the-rule-of-law-crisis/

LIBE–AFCO Joint Public Hearing on “Rule of law mechanisms in the EU 2022/6/20: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20220620IPR33409/rule-of-law-in-the-eu-ways-to-better-protect-the-union-s-core-values

Pech, Laurent: Covering Up and Rewarding the Destruction of the Rule of Law One Milestone at a Time, VerfBlog, 2022/6/21: https://verfassungsblog.de/covering-up-and-rewarding-the-destruction-of-the-rule-of-law-one-milestone-at-a-time/

Morijn, J. (2022). The Law and Politics of Protecting Liberal Democracy. (Inaugural lectures University of Groningen). University of Groningen Press: https://pure.rug.nl/ws/portalfiles/portal/224636215/Oratie_John_Morijn.pdf

Dalkilic, Evin: Generation Action, VerfBlog, 2022/6/26: https://verfassungsblog.de/generation-action/

rule of law update- MAY 2022

NEWS FROM THE COURTS 

On 2nd May 2022 the ECtHR published the communicated case Rutkiewicz v. Poland about the suspension of a judge of the Elbląg District Court by decision of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court. 

On 28 and 29 June, the Grand Chamber of th CJEU is to hear 6 cases concerning the Rule of Law in Poland. All hearings will be live-streamed via the CJEU website. Reported by Rule of Law in Poland.

EU DEVELOPMENTS

The European Commission presented a proposal to curb the rise of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) in Europe. It includes 

For more visit Euractiv.

The European Parliament has called on the Commission to systematically analyze data on non-compliance with judgements from the ECtHR. Full text adopted here.

SLOVENIA

At the end of April national elections were held in Slovenia, where the previous centre-right Janša government, was often criticised for having used the Covid-pandemic as a pretext to curtail personal freedoms and attack independent institutions such as the judiciary and the media. The outcome of the vote marked a shift toward a more progressive government, which, as far as the rule of law is concerned, will have to deal with issues like corruption, media freedom and SLAPPs. Read more in Euractive and Democracy Reporting International.

On Monday 30th May a one-day strike was organized by journalists at Slovenian public broadcaster RTV Slovenija amid an escalation of tensions between staff and leadership over a series of decisions their trade union says have been politically motivated. Read more at Euractive.

HUNGARY

On 27th April the Commission officially sent a written notification to Hungary because of concerns over persistent misuse of EU funds that ‘affect or seriously risk affecting’ the management of EU funds. According to the procedure foreseen in the Conditionality Regulation, when the Member state receives written communication, it provides the required information and may propose or adopt remedial measures to address the Commission’s findings set out in the written notification within a time limit specified by the Commission, which can be between one and three months from the date of the notification. Hungary will have a two-month deadline to reply to the letter. Read more at Euractiv.

On 24th May, the Hungarian parliament approved amending Article 53 of the Constitution to include “armed conflict, war or humanitarian disaster in a neighbouring country” as circumstances in which the government is empowered to declare a state of emergency. On the same day, Orbán used the powers granted by the amendment to proclaim a state of emergency. For more visit Euractiv.

POLAND 

An agreement between Poland and the Commission has been reached on measures to be taken to unblock funds. These involve abolishing the Disciplinary Camber, reforming the Disciplinary system and reinstating judges before the end of June, but also foresee economic and systemic reforms. Read more at Notes from Poland.

Donald Tusk, leader of the opposition announced the willingness to move a motion of no confidence to the Justice Minister Ziobro, who is considered responsible for the reforms in the judicial system, which proved detrimental to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. Read more at Euractiv.

GREECE

After intensifying laws against journalists, Greece has been listed as the lowest-ranked EU country for press freedom, World Press Freedom Index

ARTICLES, PODCASTS, PAPERS

CER PODCAST: unpicking the EU’s Rule of law conditionality mechanism with Camino Mortera-Martínez and John Morijn

“Daphne’s Law”: The European Commission introduces an anti-SLAPP initiative, Justin Borg-Barthet, eu rule of law analysis, 29 April 2022. 

mta law working papers 2022 – Series of articles on rule of law.  

The Battle for Democracy Can Be Won in Warsaw, By Anna Wojciuk, Foreign Policy Magazine, 3rd May 2022.

Rule of law Update – December 2021

General

In an interview with Politico, Koen Lenaerts (President of the European Courrt of Justice) mentioned that the current deabte about the rule of law might sinkt the project of a united Europe. “The authority of the Court of Justice and the primacy of EU law have been challenged in various member states, not only by politicians, but also by certain constitutional courts,” Lenaerts said. “This is an extremely serious situation that threatens the survival of the European project.”.  You can read the whole interview here.

Recovery plans for Hungary and Poland on hold. The European Commission will not approve the Polish and Hungarian recovery plans in 2021, meaning the two countries will miss out on billions of advance payments under the bloc’s pandemic instrument. Approval by the European Commission and by a majority of peers in the Council by the end of 2021 is necessary to access  an advance payment equivalent to 13 percent of each country’s envelope of recovery funds. Which means that Poland misses out on  pre-payments of about €5 billion for Poland and Hungary will miss out on €1 billion. Read more on Euractiv, 13 December 2021.


News from the Courts

Opinion of the advocate general in the case C-156/21 Hungary v Parliament and Council and C-157/21 Poland v Parliament and Council, regarding the conditionality mechanism of the EU budget and the rule of law.


Bulgaria

The Bulgarian parliament approved a new government led by political newcomer Kiril Petkov. Petkov’s party (Change Continues) won November’s parliamentary election — the third this year — and brings a politcically tumultuous year to an end. Petkov’sh campaign focused on stamping out corruption and Petkov is considered a pro-European reformist. The government will be formed by a compley multi-party majority involving two coalitions: the pro-European “Change Continues” supported by the Bulgarian Socialist Party and “There is such a people”. Read more on Politico and Euractiv.


Czech Republic

Due to the change in the Czech government, the Hungarian government could lose Prague’s backing in its disputes with the EU over the rule of law according to Czechia’s likely next EU Affairs Minister Mikuláš Bek (EPP) Read more in this interview with Euractiv, 1 December 2021.


France

Upcoming French Council Presidency and the rule of law. In a debate with the European Committee of Regions, President Macron commited to defending rule of law, media freedom in Europe and said that defending the rule of law will be one of the major challenges when France takes over the rotating EU Council presidency in January, said President Emmanuel Macron. Read more on Euractiv, 2 December 2021.


Hungary

Fidesz’ minority coalition partner (KDNP) complained about Tusk inviting Hungarian opposition leader Márky-Zay to join EPP. KDNP wrote a letter expressing its concerns to Donald Tusk, President of the European People’s Party (EPP), about the meeting with the Hungarian opposition’s joint candidate for Prime Minister, independent small-town mayor Péter Márky-Zay, in Warsaw. Read more on Euractiv, 6 December 2021.

Hungary blockes the EU position at US Democracy Summit and claims that the USA has bigger problems with democracy. Hungary wants to block the joint bloc participation after being the only EU country not invited to US President Joe Biden’s democracy summit next wee. Read more on Euractiv, 3 December 2021.

The last location with press access to Hungary’s ruling party Fidesz has closed. The street in front of the Viktor Orbán’s office and location of most cabinet meetings, the last place with meaningful press access to leading government figures in Budapest, has been closed off, Telex reported via 444.hu. Read more on Euractiv, 2 December 2021.

Fidesz is holding onto its ‘homophobic’ referendum. The Hungarian legislative will vote on what the ruling Fidesz calls a “child protection” referendum, but what is widely considered to be targeting the LGBTQI+ community. The vote will likely be held on the same day as the parliamentary elections upcoming spring. Read more on Euractiv, 1 December 2021.


Slovenia

Slovenian’s Corruption Prevention Commission (anti-graft watchdog) has launched an investigation into Prime Minister Janez Janša over a suspected conflict of interest after a lawyer who has represented him and his party for over a decade was appointed to the board of the country’s ‘bad bank’. Read more on Euractiv, 17 December 2021.

Following a fact-finding mission by a group of MEPs in October, and an anti-semitic Twitter post by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, the European Parliament voted on a motion on fundamental rights and the rule of law in Slovenia, in particular the delayed nomination of EPPO prosecutors on 16 December 2021. Most EPP MEPs (to whom Janša’s party belongs) opted to stand by Janša in the vote, including group leader Manfred. However, 33 EPPmembers (amongst them vice chair Esther de Lange, Frances Fitzgerald and Paulo Rangel), abstained from the vote, showing the divide within the group on this issue. Read more on Politico, 17 December 2021.


Poland

Row over Turów mine is deepening: Poland is persisting on its refusal to close the Turów mine and is also not paying the fine the EU’s top court has imposed (a €500,000 daily penalty). Read more on Politico, 30 December 2021.

MEPs want the European Commission to investigate the revelations concerning the use of the Pegasus spyware by Polish government entities against Roman Giertych, foremer Minister of Education and lawyer, and prosecutor Anna Wrzosek. The spying scandal may add fuel to the country’s ongoing conflict with Brussels over the rule of law. Some days later, the leader of the Polish opposition Civic Platform party’s 2019 election campaign alleged that his phone was hacked 33 times by Israeli spyware tool Pegasus and used by the government to “destabilize” his party’s plans. The government denied the allegations. Read more on Euractiv, 23 December 2021, and Politico, 27 December 2021.

Commission launched an infringement procedure against Poland for its violations of EU law by its Constitutional Tribunal, namely its rulings of 14 July 2021 and 7 October 2021 which considered the provisions of the EU Treaties incompatible with the Polish Constitution and thhus expressly challenge the primacy of EU law. The Commission questioned the validity of the Polish court itself, stating it had “serious doubts on the independence and impartiality of the Constitutional Tribunal” and considers that it “no longer meets the requirements of a tribunal previously established by law,” as required by the EU treaties. Poland has two months to reply to the letter of formal notice. Read more in the EC’s statement, 22 December 2021.

Thousands of Polish citizens protested against a new media law that is aimed at silencing the country’s main independent news channel TVN24. The bill would have prevented companies from outside the EEA from holding a controlling stake in Polish media companies, which would force the American group Discovery to sell its majority stake in TVN, one of Poland’s biggest private TV networks. However, on 28 December, Polish president Andrzej Duda vetoed the new media bill to avoid a row with Washington. Read more on Euractiv, 20 December 2021, and Politico, 27 December 2021.

Poland’s justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro has told the Financial Times that he favours suspending EU membership contributions if the European Commission withholds funding in the ongoing dispute over judicial reforms. Read more on Euractiv, 13 December 2021.

The Council of Europe demands answers from Poland following controversial  Constitutional Court ruling on primacy of EU law. Poland should explain how, in the context of the Constitutional Court’s recent judgment, it will ensure the effective implementation of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić has asked the Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau in a letter sent on Tuesday. Read more on Euractiv, 8 December 2021.

At the Warsaw Summit of European conservative and right-wing leaders, Jarosław Kaczyński (head of PiS) criticised the EU for moving towards a more federal EU and is calling Europe’s conservatives to come up with a new proposal for the European continent. Read more on Euractiv, 6 December 2021.

Poland curtails media’s access to its Belarus border. While the opposition advocated for unlimited media access, president Duda signed into law legislation that will limit the access of NGO’s, aid charities and journalists to its border with Belarus. Read more on euobserver, 30 November 2021. Several reports also showed that violence at the Polish-Belarussian borders is increasing systematically. Read more on Euractiv, 2 December 2021.


Articles

The New Rule of Law Conditionality Mechanism clears its first hurdle –Analysis of AG Campos Sánchez-Bordona Opinions in Hungary v Parliament and Council (C-156/21) and Poland v Parliament and Council (C-157/21)


Podcasts

Verfassungsblog-Podcast “EU v. Poland” (in German) about the roots of the rule of law conflict with Poland and an indepth-analysis of the EU law aspects of this conflict. You can listen to the podcast series here.


Events

15 December, Reconnect, The Rule of Law in Europe: Insights from the 2021 Rule of Law Index:

Rule of Law Update – November 2021

Court news

Judgement in C-564/19: The CJEU found that EU law precludes a supreme court (in this case the Hungarian Kúria) from annulling a decision by a lower court to refer a case to CJEU. The principle of primacy of EU law means that the lower court should disregard the Kúria. Furthermore, the CJEU has found that EU law precludes a domestic disciplinary procedure against a judge over referring the case to CJEU, highlighting that such practice can lead to a chilling effect and ward off judges from sending cases over to CJEU.

Judgment in Case C-821/19 (Commission v Hungary) concerning the criminalisation of assistance to asylum seekers: the CJEU found that the 2018 ‘Stop Soros’ law breaches EU law, after the European Commission took Hungary to court. The CJEU made clear that threatening people with imprisonment who assist asylum-seekers to claim asylum violates EU norms. Read more about this in this article by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, 16 November 2021.

Judgment in Joined Cases C‑748/19 to C‑754/19 (Prokuratura Rejonowa w Mińsku Mazowieckim and Others) EU law precludes the regime in force in Poland which permits the Minister for Justice to second judges to higher criminal courts. A secondment in itself might not influence the independence of judges, but under the current setup, where the Minister of Justice (who seconds the judges) is also the Prosecutor General (who might have interest in the outcome of a case, this system is problematic.  The Minister of Justic can terminate such secondments at any time without stating reasons or criteria, which can influence judges’ independence.

Judgement in Dolińska-Ficek and Ozimek v. Poland (49868/19 and 57511/19): the ECtHR has ruled that Poland’s Supreme Court’s Extraordinary Review and Public Affairs Chamber is not an independent court. The case concerned complaints brought by two judges that the Chamber of Extraordinary Review  and Public Affairs of the Supreme Court, which had decided on cases concerning them, had not been a “tribunal established by law” and had lacked impartiality and independence. Particularly, they complained that the chamber had been composed of judges appointed by the President of Poland on the recommendation of the National Council of the Judiciary (“the NCJ”), the constitutional organ in Poland which safeguards the independence of courts and judges and which has been the subject of controversy since the entry into force of new legislation providing, among
other things, that its judicial members are no longer elected by judges but by the Sejm (the lower house of Parliament). Read the whole judgement here.

Judgment in Polish case K 6/21: the Polish Constitutional Court found that Art. 6 (1) of European Convention on Human Rights is incompatible with Polish Constitution regarding the right to fair trail in proceedings before the very same Constitutional Tribunal. Read more on the court hearing and the decision in Jakub Jaraczewski’s Twitter threads and in this article by Notes from Poland.

Court hearing in case C-562/21 concerning a Dutch court (Rechtbank Amsterdam) asking the CJEU whether European Arrest Warrants can be executed with regards to Poland, given the state of the rule of law there. You can read more about the hearing in this Twitter-thread by Niels Kirst.


General

The European Commission presented its plans for EU-wide media rules within the Media Freedom Act on 29 November. The law will include rules on cross-border functioning and ownership of media inside the EU to prevent government interference. The law will also include rules to prevent excessive concentration of media ownership. On Balkan Insight you can read about the Media Freedom Act’s ambitions and if these ambitions are maybe a case of “too little, too late”.

Germany’s incoming government plans to urge Brussels to get tougher on rule-of-law breaches, according to the coalition treaty. Germany’s new Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stressed  that “intensive discussions” on rule of law issues were necessary, when she visited Warsaw in the beginning of December.

The European Commisison sent letters to Hungary and Poland as a preliminary step before launching the formal procedure of the Conditionality Regulation. In its letter, is warning Poland and Hungary about concerns over judicial independence, ineffective prosecution of corruption, and deficiencies in public procurement could pose a risk to the EU’s financial interests, and could eventually lead to financial penalties. Read more on Politico, 20 November 2021.

Czechia and Poland failed to agree on a deal concerning Turów mine. Such a deal would have led to the withdrawal of a lawsuit concerning coal mine Turów located at Czech-Polish borders. Representatives of the two neighbouring countries will now meet  at the European Court of Justice for the first hearing. Read more on Euractiv, 9 November 2021.


Bulgaria

EU lawmakers urge the Commission to tightens control over Bulgaria. The European Parliament’s civil liberties committee wants the European Commission to strengthen its monitoring and audit of EU funds for Bulgaria, including the Recovery and Resilience Facility. Read more here on Euractiv, 18 November 2021.

Bulgarian parlamentarian and presidential elections.  ‘Change continues’, a new political force in Bulgaria, is the surprise leader following the parliamentary and presidential elections in Bulgaria, while the country’s President Rumen Radev is well-placed for reelection, having won 48.5% in the first round. Read more on Euractiv, 15 November 2021.

Read more about the details of the Bulgarian elections and what it means for the rule of law in this article by Jakub Jaraczewski for Democracy Reporting International.

Bulgaria’s Justice minister Ivan Demerdjiev offered scathing criticism of Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev, saying that unless he is removed, Bulgaria risks losing access to EU funding.  Read more on Euractiv, 12 November 2021.

The Bulgarian presidential candidate and self-declared Nationalist Socialist Boyan Rassate, was accused for allegedly attacking an LGBTIQ+ centre in Sofia. The attack was condemned by the other presidential candidates. Read more on Balkan Insight, 1 November 2021.


Czech republic

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš stepped down. Babiš appointed the head of the Together coalition, Petr Fiala, as the country’s next head of government. Read more on Politico, 5 November 2021.


Hungary

Opposition leader Péter Márki-Zay has visited Brussels and spoke with leaders of the European Parliament and the European Commission. At his press conference, Márki-Zay vowed to tackle corruption in Hungary, if the opposition wins the election, and to roll back Fidesz regulations.Read more about Márki-Zay and his mission to lead Hungary to a new political future in this portrait by Balkan Insight, 22 November 2021.

The Hungarian Constitutional Court will discuss a motion by Orban’s government, in which it challenges an ECJ judgement on implementing EU law at the EU’s borders as “incompatible with the Hungarian constitution”. Read more on Reuters, 15 November 2021.

Commission refers Hungary to the CJEU over its failure to comply with Court judgment in case C-808/18 concernig Hungary’s legislation on the rules and practice in the transit zones situated at the Serbian-Hungarian border. Although those transit zones are closed by now, Hungary is restricting the right to asylum, according to the Commission. Another problem is the problem is that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government has asked its own constitutional court whether the EU court’s ruling violates the Hungarian constitution. Read more here, 12 November.

Hungary will not receive any money for the construction of a border wall. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced that she has no intention of contributing to the anti-migrant wall built by Prime Minister Orbán. The Commission is, however, prepared to finance information systems, technological infrastructures and other solutions used to control borders.

Fidesz MP Lajos Kósa admitted that the Hungarian government bought Pegasus spyware used to hack journalists. Kósa, the chairman of the Hungarian parliament’s defence and law enforcement committee, admitted that the interior ministry had bought the Israeli Pegasus spy software, which press investigations revealed last summer was used to spy on journalists, businessmen, and local politicians. Read more on Euractiv, 5 November 2021.

A newly-adopted amendment in Hungary legalises the establishment of fictitious addresses and could unleash ‘voter tourism’ in next year’s parliamentary elections, according to a statement of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ), and the Political Capital think tank. The requirement of actually having to live at an address would be reduced to a mere presumption in favour of a residence at a contact address. Read more on Euractiv, 16 November 2021.

Viktor Orbán was confirmed as the leader of Fidesz for another two years, read more on Euractiv, 15 November 2021.

Hungary is the only EU Member State that is not invited for the US Summit for Democracy in 2021, read more on Politico, 4 November 2021. Also interesting: Jakub Jaraczewski’s thread about why Poland and Taiwan have been invited while Hungary is not.


Greece

Concerns about media freedom in Greece. Greece has recently passed a media law that allegedly should combat the spread of fake news. However, it effectively allows the Greek authorities to lock up journalists up three months for publishing fake news that may “cause anxiety or fear to citizens”. Experts fear that the new law will be used to intimidate critical journalists and suppress stories of public interest. Read more on Euractiv, 16 November 2021.

SLAPP lawsuit against small independent media outlet Alterthess by a Greek gold mining executive convicted of serious environmental crimes. Read more on IPI, 16 November 2021.


Poland

Half of Polish citizens consider EU institutions ‘too weak’ over rule of law conflict, according to a recent poll by the Institute of Public Affairs (ISP).  “EU institutions react too late and too weak in response to the EU law violations by governments”, according to 48% of Polish citizens, only 22 % disagree with this statement. Read more on Euractiv, 25 November 2021. Furthermore, a. majority of Poles (52%) say that the country’s judiciary has worsened in the last three years, according to a recent poll.

The Human Rights Outlook 2021 (a report assessing the separation of powers in 198 countries) has found that Poland (along with China and Russia) has slipped most in its index due to its judicial system. You can read the whole report here.

The situation at the Polish-Belarussian is escalating dramatically. Warsaw has sent 12,000 troops to the border and is using tear gas and water canons against migrants to push them back into Belarus. Armed Belarusian authorities dressed in camouflage gear seem to escort hundreds of migrants, including children, towards Poland. Poland is resuing to request the help of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, nor is it allowing NGOs at the border. In this opinion piece on Politico, former Polish Ombudsman Adam Bodnar and Agnieszka Grzelak, the former deputy director of the Constitutional, European and International Law department in the Ombudsman office, write about what horrible things are happening on EU territorium without the EU (or its agencies such as Frontex) monitoring the situation and intervening.

K 7/21: the Prosecutor General and Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro has applied for the Polish Constitutional Tribunal to review the conformity of the European Convention on Human Rights with the Polish constitution.

K 8/21: the Prosecutor General’s has applied to review whether Art. 279 TFEU and Art. 39 of CJEU statute (financial fines over non-compliance with CJEU interim orders) are compatible with Polish constitution. This case concerns both interim measures in the Túrow mine case and case C-204/21on the Polish Disciplinary Chamber.

6 Polish judges have been suspended for 30 days over applying EU law and disregarding the K 3/21 judgement from the Constitutional Tribunal. Read more on Rule of Law in Poland, 9 November 2021.

Three judges from the Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court have requested for the Constitutional Tribunal to review whether Art. 19(1) TEU, Art. 6 ECHR and several Polish laws are consistent with the Polish Constitution, read more about this in this Twitter-thread by Jakub Jaraczewski.

A Norwegian court suggests surrender to Poland under the EAW should be suspended in general, read more about this EAW case in an article by Norwegian law professor Eirik Holmøyvik on Verfassungsblog, 2 November 2021.

Demonstrations concerning strict abortion laws. Demonstrations have taken place in Poland following the death of a pregnant 30-year-old woman – the family’s lawyer say the doctors have waited too long to save the woman’s life. This incident has sparked new criticism about the country’s strict abortion laws which allow abortinos only in cases of rape or incest, or if the life of the mother is endangered. Read more on Politico, 2 November 2021.


Slovenia

Slovenia’s delegated prosecutors for EPPO appointed on a ‘temporary’ basis. Slovenia’s government has  put forward Tanja Frank Eler and Matej Oštir as Slovenia’s two prosecutors delegated to the European Public Prosecutors’ Office (EPPO). However, their appointment is “temporary”, thus in force until the national appointment procedure is concluded. Read more on Euractiv, 19 November 2021.

LIBE Committee Mission to Slovenia – report published. Among the findings are an “urgent need for legislative reforms, proper implementation and more transparency in many areas.” You can read the full report here.

The Slovenian Press Agency (STA) signed an agreement with the government communication office, which will allow it to access state funding this year. The independence of the press in Slovenia has been questioned after prime minister Janša has repeatedly and openly attacked Slovenia‘s main public media outlets, calling the Slovenian Press Agency STA  “a national disgrace, unworthy of the name it bears”. The government has previously halted financing for STA and pushes to increase its influence on the agency. Read more on Politico, 8 November 2021.


Articles, papers, Reports

Piotr Bogdanowicz, Legal opinion on the legal consequences of the Constitutional Tribunal ruling in case K 3/21 on the incompatibility of the provisions of the Treaty on European Union with the Constitution of the Republic of Poland in light of European Union law, you can read the legal opinion here.

Edit Zgut, Tilting the Playing Field in Hungary and Poland through Informal Power, read the article here.

Radosveta Vassileva, Yellow Light for Disciplining Inconvenient Judges? -The ECtHR’s Ambivalent Judgment in Todorova v Bulgaria, Verfassungsblog.

Dariusz Mazur for Themis, Attack on the Polish judiciary, or the anatomy of a creeping legal Polexit, you can read the report here.

Camino Mortera-Martinez, How to solve a problem like Poland, Centre for European Reform, available here.

Simona Guerra, The Polish people support the EU – it’s their government that continues to antagonise Brussels, The Conversation.


Seminars/webinars

European Policy Centre: Poland’s challenge to EU law – how should the EU respond? (3 November 2021)

CEU Democracy Institute’s Review of Democracy, Roundtable: The Polish Constitutional Tribunal Judgment: European Integration in Question? (25 October 2021)

Rule of Law Update – October 2021

General

The European Parliament’s legal affairs filed a lawsuit against the Commission for inaction on the dismantlement of the rule of law in Poland and Hungary on the basis of the Conditionality Regulation. However, it is not sure if such a legal action will be successful, as doubts remain about its admissibility and its chances to succeed. Read more on Politico, 29 October 2021.

LGBTQI+ rights: Hungary and Poland have vetoed the EU children right’s strategy and accuse other member states of putting the rights of LGBTQI+-activists above those of children, read more on euobserver, 8 October 2021.

Babiš and Orbán blacklist critical international journalists from a joint press conference held by the two leaders in the beginning of October. The blacklisted journalists included newspapers such as Die Zeit, Le Monde, ARD and Czech journalists writing for Seznam Zprávy and Investigace.cz. Read more on Euractiv, 1 October 2021.


Austria

Austrian Chancellor Kurz resigns over corruption allegations. Kurz announced his resignation after allegations of Kurz embezzling finance ministry funds to pay for polls that served his political agenda have been revealed. Read more on Euractiv and Politico, 11 October 2021.


Bulgaria

Bulgarian mogul Delyan Peevski named in the Pandora Papers, the Bulgarian partner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed. Read more on Euractiv, 7 October 2021.

Bulgarian MEP Elena Yoncheva (S&D) files case against the Bulgarian government at the European Court of Human Rights. She accused them of launching a money laundering case against her to repress and discredit her work. Read more on Euractiv, 5 October 2021.


CZECH REPUBLIC

Pandora Paper revelations: Czech billionaire-prime minister Andrej Babiš is facing questions after his purchase of a €20m castle in the south of France a few years ago using four obscure companies came to light in the latest financial data-leak. Babiš denies any wrongdoing and blames the “Czech mafia” for the offshore data leak. Read more on Politico, 8 October 2021.


Greece

EU media watchdogs calls on Greece to protect press freedom. The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) urged the Greek government to withdraw proposed amendments that would introduce fines and jail sentences for journalists found guilty of publishing “false news”. Read more on Euractiv, 13 October 2021.


Hungary

Conservative politician Péter Márki-Zay won the race to become the Hungarian opposition’s joint candidate for prime minister. Márki-Zay has been able to win the support of many liberal and left-wing opposition parties after a group of opposition parties came together to jointly defeat Viktor Orbán in the upcoming elections. Read more on Politico, 18 October 2021.

The Hungarian government wants to introduce bill that locks controversial prosecutor, Péter Polt, behind a two-thirds majority. The country’s chief prosecutor could then only be removed with a two-thirds parliamentary majority, a new bill submitted by Justice Minister Judit Varga proposed. Polt, a former Fidesz member, has been accused of pro-government bias. Read more on Euractiv, 14 October 2021.

Members of the European Parliament are worried that Hungary is siphoning EU funds through foundations. MEPs from the LIBE Committee have been on a three-day visit to Hungary to assess the rule of law situation. Read more on euobserver, 6 October 2021.

Prominent business figures with close ties to Viktor Orban’s government have had secret offshore businesses. Read more on Direkt36, 4 October 2021.

Hungary only EU state against bill to attract skilled migrants. With the ‘Blue Card’, the EU wants to attract more highly-skilled immigrants to come to Europe. Hungary attracted only six in 2019  but still opposes reforms to make it easier, citing labour protection rules. Read more on euobserver, 4 October 2021.

A group of NGOs (such as Transparency International EU, Open Society European Policy Institute) has written a letter to the European Commission calling for to withhold approval of Hungary’s recovery funds. The organizations express “concerns regarding Hungary’s inadequate anti-corruption framework” and requested that the Commission withholds Hungary’s recovery plan “until concrete measures are put in place.” The Commission has held back the recovery funds because of concerns about the recovery plan, including its anti-corruption measures. The Commission wants Hungary to join the so-called Arachne database, in which all projects involving European money are registered, so that it is easier to see whether there is any fraud. Hungary has so far refused to cooperate. After a 3-day-visit by MEPs, they voiced concern about Hungary’s possible misuse of EU funds in Hungary through a recently introduced system of foundations, read more about this on euobserver, 6 October 2021.

IPI condemns exclusion of journalists during Babiš-Orbán press conference: On Wednesday, September 29, journalists from various European and Czech media were denied admittance to an afternoon press briefing by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš in the Czech city of Ústí nad Labemof, which focused on defence, migration and the coronavirus pandemic. Among those denied entry were journalists from Le Monde, Die Zeit, and journalists from the German regional public broadcaster MDR and the Czech news websites Seznam Zprávy and Investigace.cz. Other investigative and freelance journalists were also barred.


Poland

The CJEU issued fine of 1 million euros per day for Poland’s failure to suspend its (sham) Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court – a body the CJEU has ruled violates EU law and is being used to pressure judges over their rulings by lifting their judicial immunity and retroactively suspending all decisions already taken by judges. The fine is the highest-ever daily penalty the CJEU has imposed on an EU member nation. If Poland does not pay the fine, the Commission can deduct the fine from its payments to Poland.

Majority of Polish citizens want the Polish government to end dispute with EU. Some 73 percent of Poles said Warsaw should back down in its rule-of-law dispute with Brussels in a survey by IBRiS for the Rzeczpospolita newspaper, read more on euobserver, 27 October 2021.

Donal Tusk becomes the new leader of Poland’s main opposition party, Civic Platform (PO). He received 97,4 % votes in favour, he was the only candidate to participate in the vote. The party was criticized for as all regional candidates are men. Read more on Euractiv, 25 October 2021.

The Polish parliament is considering a new law called “Stop LGBT”, proposed by the Foundation for Life and Family. The bill would change the right to free assembly in Poland in such a way that public gatherings may not “question marriage as a relationship between a woman and a man” or “propagate the extension of marriage to persons of the same sex.” This will most likely spark a new conflict with the EU after Poland had to backtrack on its plans for anti-LGBTIQ free zones because the European Commission threatened to withdraw EU funds. Read more on Euractiv, 21 October 2021.

On 7 October 2021, the Polish Consitutional Court has come to a judgment in case K 3/21 concerning the primacy of EU law over Polish constitutional law. Poland has escalated its fight with the EU, after the country’s Constitutional Tribunal (a politically controlled puppet court) issued a ruling in case K 3/21 challenging the EU’s legal order. “The effort by the Court of Justice of the European Union to interfere in the Polish justice system violates the principle of the primacy of the Polish constitution,” the Constitutional Tribunal ruled on 7 October 2021. Jakub Jaraczewski from Democracy Reporting International perfectly sums up what is at stake for the EU as a union after the decision in K 3/21 in this article for Verfassungsblog. As many – most prominently the Polish government – equates the decision in K 3/21 to the one issued by the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe concerning the ECB’s PSP programme, Alexander Thiele explains why these cases are intrinsically different for several reasons. Polish legal experts Stanisław Biernat and Ewa Łętowska also illustrate why K 3/21 is not just another ultra vires-ruling as the German Constitutional Court’s judgement in this article on Verfassungsblog.

Pro-European demonstrations on 10 October after Poland’s “Polexit” ruling in K 3/21: approximately 200,000 people in 126 towns and cities across Poland, the rest of Europe and the world demonstrated against last week’s decision of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal that ruled EU basic treaties are partially illegal.

The Vice-President of the CJEU rejects Poland‘s request to revoke the order of 14 July 2021 requiring suspension, among other things, of the Supreme Court disciplinary chamber provisions, C204/21 RRAP (currently only available in French), 6 October 2021.

Fabrice Leggeri, the executive director of the EU’s border agency Frontex, visited the Poland-Belarus border on Monday to review Warsaw’s response to the increase in migrants arriving from Belarus. Leggeri was accompanied by Polish Deputy Minister of Interior Bartosz Grodecki. But there is still no sign of Warsaw requesting help from Frontex in patrolling the border, as it continues to defy the European Commission, which has pressed for greater transparency following the deaths of five migrants. Politico, 5 October 2021.


Slovenia

Slovenian president Janez Janša attacks European Parliament ahead of visit of MEPs between 13 and 15 October to examine the state of the rule of law and media freedom in Slovenia. Janša posted a now-deleted tweet denouncing a number of MEPs as “Soros puppets in the EU parliament”. Read more on Politico, 14 October 2021.

Slovenia shamed on corruption by European watchdog (GRECO) as it has failed to implement Aany of GRECO’s 15 recommendations made in 2018, read more about this on euobserver 7 October 2021 and read the full report here.

Europe’s chief prosecutor Laura Kövesi warned that the EU budget might not be safe because Slovenia continues to delay naming delegated prosecutors to the EPPO, euobserver, 4 October 2021. However, the Administrative Court has sided with the two prosecutors picked to represent Slovenia in the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (Tanja Frank Eler and Matej Oštir) as it overturned a government decision to annul the selection procedure. The government has asked the justice ministry to publish another new call to fill the country’s two top EU prosecutor positions. Read more about this on Euractiv, 6 October 2021.


Romania

Romania’s center-right governing coalition collapsed after lawmakers brought down Prime Minister Florin Cîțu’s administration in a non-confidence vote. Read more on Euractiv, 5 October 2021.


Articles

When is a tribunal not a tribunal? Poland loses again as the European Court of Human Rights declares the Disciplinary Chamber not to be a tribunal established by law in Reczkowicz v. Poland, Article by Anna Mechlinska for Strasbourg Observers, 26 October 2021.

Babiš’s Media -The Erosion of Freedom of Press in Czechia, Terezie Boková for Verfassungsblog, 15 October 2021.

Why the rule of law matters – Recent events in Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic illustrate the importance of independent prosecutors and judges, Paul Taylor, Politico, 12 October 2021.

Gazing into the Abyss – The K 3/21 decision of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, Jakub Jaraczewski, Verfassungsblog, 12 October 2021.

Resisting Membership Fatalism – Dissociation through enhanced cooperation or collective withdrawal, Merijn Chamon and Tom Theuns, Verfassungsblog, 11 October 2021.

The Rule of Law from Below – A Concept Under Development, Antoine Buyse, Katharine Fortin, Brianne McGonigle Leyh and Julie Fraser, Utrecht Law Review, October 2021.

The Role of Civil Society in Protecting Judicial Independence in Times of Rule of Law Backsliding in Poland, Barbara Grabowska-Moroz and Olga Śniadach, Utrecht Law Review, October 2021.


Other

Podcast, Rechtsstaatlichkeit, listen to it here.

Podcast What the hell just happened in Poland?, listen to it here.

Podcast by IPI about Media Capture in the EU, listen to it here.

#WolneSądy has published an informative overview of the judges lawfully and unlawfully nominated nominated of the Supreme Court:

Rule of law update – September 2021

In our rule of law updates, we look back at the most important rule of law news of the last month. We give an overview of current events per Member State and will also mention important events, seminars and webinars on the rule of law situation in the European Union. Furthermore, we will list some important and interesting articles, books and publications concerning the rule of law. If you have any suggestions, corrections or events that you want us to mention, do not hesitate to contact us!

General

On 24 September 2021, the European Commission presented its Recommendation on ensuring the protection, safety and empowerment of journalists and media professionals in the European Union. The recommendation includes a series of measures to improve journalists’ safety, to end attacks against journalists and to stop the legal and other types of harassment that journalists regularly face, such as SLAPPs. Press organisations, such as IPI, welcome the recommendations but also warn that the efficiency of such recommendations might be hampered by insufficient implementation.

Rule of Law Report will include specific recommendations in the future. The Commission has announced that it is changing its Rule of Law Report to include country-specific recommendations. Many have criticised the limited value of the rule of law report due to its descriptive nature and its lack of impact on the rule of law situation in the EU.


Upcoming Events in October

6 October: the CJEU will publish its judgment in the case C‑487/19 W.Ż. (a referral from a Polish Court). C-487/19 concerns the question whether a panel composed of a judge from one of the new Chambers of the Polish Supreme Court is an independent and impartial tribunal established by law, according to EU law. It thus touches crucial rule of law aspects such as judicial appointments, the status of neo-National Council of Judiciary and the independence of judges that were appointed with its participation.

7-8 October 2021: Probing Democracy organised by the Central European University, can be followed online as well, more information here. We can especially recommend the panel Robustness of the Rule of Law: Past and Present on Friday.

7-8 October 2021: Justice and Home Affairs Council, which will, amongst others, deal with SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation) and EPPO.

8 October 2021, 09:30 (CET); Democracy Reporting International: Overshadowed by neighbours? Rule of law in the Czech parliamentary elections, registration via this link.

11-12 October: CJEU hearing in cases C-156/21 (v Parliament and Council) and C-157/21 (Poland v Parliament and Council) – these cases concern the Conditionality Regulation 2020/2092.

19 October 2021: General Affairs Council, which will discuss the Annual Rule of Law Reports.


Bulgaria

In 14 November 2021, Bulgarians head to the polls putting hope in new political force. Bulgaria will hold a third parliamentary election this year after two previous votes failed to produce a government. The parliamentary elections will be held on the same day as the presidential elections. You can follow the most current polls and trends for the parliamentary elections on Politico.


France

According to Emmanuel Macron, compliance with Rule Of Law will be among the priorities of the 2022 French EU Presidency. Read more on Politico Brussels Playbook, 7 September 2021.


Germany

Wolfgang Schäuble (President of the German parliament) does not want to be too harsh on Poland and Hungary. He warned the EPP congress about the risks in causing too much row with Poland and Hungary concerning the rule of law and treaty infringements. Withholding EU funding is agreeable for a certain time, but going too far in this row might turn out to be counteproductive. Read more on Euractiv, 9 September 2021.


Hungary

European Parliament delegation on the rule of law to carried out a fact-finding mission to Budapest from 29 September to 1 October. The delegation under the lead of MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield was especially concerned about the use of spyware on journalists and oppostion that was revealed by the Pegasus Project. You can watch the press conference given by Delbos-Corfield about the fact-finding mission to Budapest here.

On 26 September 2021, the primary elections of Hungary’s opposition alliance took place. Hungary’s opposition parties have formed an alliance in an attempt to defeat Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party next year’s election. There were reports about hacking of the opposition primary as online voting was disrupted for days, some claim Chinese hackers are responsible for this. Klara Dobrev, the leftist Democratic Coalition’s candidate, won the first round of opposition primary vote just ahead of another leftist, Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony, both campaigned on a pro-European agenda. Read more on Reuters, 1 October 2021.

The Hungarian Parliament extended the force of the Authorization Act until 31 December 2021 and thus prolongues the rule-by-decree emergency regime introduced due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Read more about how this grants the government excessive regulator powers in this regularly updated article by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, 27 September 2021,

New revelations about the Pegasus spy-ware that was used on journalists and opposition members. Direkt36 revealed that Dániel Németh has been recently targeted and surveilled with the Pegasus spy-ware – the spying occured after the revelations were made public. Direkt36 also found out that a publisher of an anti-Orbán news site came under surveillance on the same day Hungary’s largest opposition party uploaded information about a contract with this news site to the parliament’s website (Tweet by Direkt36 on 13 September 2021). The Hungarian government in the meantime has been doing its best to block parliamentary hearings about the Pegasus Project from taking place. In a recent hearing, Orbán’s cabinet members not only refused to give clear answers about the use of spyware against journalists, the opposition and other targets, it also classified everything they have said in this hearing until 2050 (Tweet by direkt36-journalists Szabolcs Panyi on 20 September 2021). On 15 September 2021, the European Parliament discussed the Pegasus project. Read more on Direkt36, 21 September 2021, and The Guardian, 15 September 2021.

Baka v. Hungary: the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe calls on Hungary to present the steps taken by the Hungarian government aimed at executing the judgment issued in 2016 in the Baka v. Hungary case, Hungarian Helsinki Committee, 20 September 2021.

EU anti-fraud watchdog OLAF loses access to documents case against Hungarian civil association after Court finds the protection of inspections cannot serve as a reason to refuse access after such inspections are closed. Read more about the case on Open Government in the EU, 13 September 2021.

Businesses with close ties to Fidesz and Orbán land government deals favourable to them. Recently, reports by Telex showed that a Fidesz-allied businessmen (namely the husband of government spokesperson Alexandra Szentkirályi)  secretly won 35-year casino rights. Furthermore, Lőrinc Mészáros, a childhood friend of Prime Minister Orbán, has won a big infrastructure tender for Budapest’s most significant railway development project (Southern Circular Railway). Mészáros has scored other important government contracts before that.

Hungary extended its migration emergency for the fifth year again by six months due to growing migratory pressure at the border and events in Afganisthan. This state of emergency has been introduced in March 2016 and has been extended every six months since then. Read more on Euractiv, 5 September 2021.

T517/19 (Homoki v. Commission): The EU General Court annuls OLAF’s decision not to grant partial access to the final report of its investigation relating to street-lighting projects implemented by the company Elios in Hungary with financial participation from the EU (these were the projects in which Orbán’s son-in-law has been involved). Read more here, 1 September 2021


Slovakia

A special committee of the European Parliament led by Sophie in ‘t Veld paid a working visit to Slovakia to see how the fight against corruption is going. The independence of the media and the state of democracy were also on the agenda for this country visit. The EP delegation also visited the parents of journalists Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová, who were murdered three years ago.


Slovenia

Supreme Court decides in row about Slovenian Press Agency. 21 organisations signed a joint statement calling for an end of the STA (Slovenian Press Agency) crisis. It has been more than 250 days since the STA has last received state funding from the government of Janez Janša. The funding has been stopped because of a row over its management and reporting. In the beginning of September, the Slovenian Supreme Court ruled that the government must resume financing the country’s only news agency, read more here on Euractiv, 7 September 2021.


Poland

Poland’s KRRiT extended the license of broadcaster TVN24 4 days before the deadline on 26 September after a 19-month delay after the TV station. Earlier in September, the PiS government signed a bill that would block companies that are owned by entities outside the EEA . The bill seemed to particularly aim at the discontinuing the license of American-owned TVN, whose coverage is often critical of the government.

Morawiecki government considers breaking up ‘sincere cooperation’ principle. As the standoff between the Polish government and the European Commission is continuing, Morawiecki’s  government is considering all possible retaliations to use against the Commission’s gridlock of EU funds. The Polish government has allegedly made a list of EU projects it intends to block if the EC freezes the EU recovery package. Read more on Euractiv and euobserver 29 September 2021.

The European Commission sent letters to five regions controlled by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, urging them to remove the anti-LGBT declarations adopted by their local governments, otherwise they’d lose EU funding (Euractiv, 7 September 2021). After these warnings, several Polish regions revoked their anti-LGBT declarations – however, 16.5% of Polish territory is still covered by “LGBT-ideology free zones” (around 100 towns, regions and villages). Read more on euobserver, 23 September 2021.

Polish Court Case K 3/21 about the primacy of EU law over Polish law continues. After several postponements, Case K 3/21 finally continued on 22 September. To freshen up the memory: K 3/21 at the Polish Constitutional Court has become a crucial case about whether Polish judges have to apply EU law before the Polish Constitutional Court and whether EU law enables Polish judges to assess other judges’ independence. The case has been lodged by Prime Minister Morawiecki and could lead to a general rejection of the primacy of EU law (one of the core principle of the EU legal order). It could thus be the end of judicial dialogue and a first step of a “Polexit” from the EU legal order. Jakub Jaraczewski from Democracy Reporting International has summarised both hearings of K 3/21 (you can read the thread about the hearing on 22 September here and here the one one 30 September). The case will continue on 7 October.

European Arrest Warrant, Poland and Rechtbank Amsterdam: for the third time, the Rechtbank Amsterdam submits preliminary questions to the CJEU concerning the European Arrest Warrant and Polish courts. This referral concerns the status of Polish judges appointed with the participation of the neo-National Council of Judiciary. The Rechtbank Amsterdam also refers to the questions asked by the Irish Supreme Court in Case C-480/21 (Minister for Justice and Equality).

Disciplinary Chamber: Commission has found that Poland failed to implement the CJEU interim order C-204/21 and judgment C-791/19. On 7 September, the European Commission asked the CJEU to impose a daily financial fine for Poland’s non-compliance with temporary measures that the CJEU ordered in July 2021in Case C-204/21. The Commission furthermore initiated the procedure to establish the fact of non-compliance with the C-791/19 judgment. Didier Reynder stated that the Commission is “at the end of the road” with Poland and that the penalties should be as high as €1m a day (although that is up to the CJEU). Read more on Financial Times, 9 September 2021, and Politico & Notes From Poland, 7 September 2021. Poland’s PiS government did not hesitate to respond to the Commission’s decision, calling for “drastic solutions” and promising that they will “fight the Brussels occupier”, read more on Notes from Poland, 10 September. The situation at the Disciplinary Chamber remains chaotic: as Jakub Jaraczewski points out, one panel suspended its proceedings due to the ECtHR judgment in the Reczkowicz case and the CJEU’s interim order, some panels continue their work. Another interesting read is the Verfassungsblog-article by the Members of the Free Courts Civic Initiative based in Poland.

Despite the interim order and the penalty for non-compliance, the suspension of judges continue: Ziobro breached the CJEU judgment and suspended Judge Synakiewicz for challenging the status of neo-judges and implementing the judgments of the CJEU and ECtHR, Rule of Law in Poland, 10 September 2021. Some days later, Judge Piotr Gąciarek from the Regional Court in Warsaw was also suspended for implementing EU law because he refused to adjudicate alongside a judge promoted by the National Council of the Judiciary, read more on Themis, 13 September 2021.


Romania

Romanian socialist MEPs vote against LGBTIQ rights, read more on euobserver, 15 September 2021.


News articles, Podcasts, Etc.

Article by Radosveta Vassileva about the situation of media freedom in Bulgaria, New Eastern Europe, 21 September 2021.

6 reasons why the EU should use the approval of National Recovery and Resilience Plans to enforce the rule of law in Hungary and Poland by the Good Lobby Profs, available here.

Interview with John Morijn and Dariusz Mazur about the threat of a legal Polexit, de Volkskrant, 21 September 2021 [in Dutch language!]

The Guardian about the Tour de Konstytucja” and Judge Igor Tuleya, 20 September 2021.

Notes from Poland podcast: Rule of law and the spectre of Polexit with Notes from Poland editor-at-large Stanley Bill and legal expert & journalist Anna Wójcik.


Papers, reports, Seminars

Respect for the Rule of Law in the Case Law of the European Court of JusticeA Casebook Overview of Key Judgments since the  Portuguese Judges Case, written by Laurent Pech and Dimitry Kochenov, Published by the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies (SIEPS), you can find this casebook overview here.

Europe’s Free Press Under Siege, Association of Independent Journalists with support from the Committee for Editorial Independence, link to report.

Unleashed dialogue or captured by politics? The impact of judicial independence on national higher courts’ cooperation with the CJEU, Juan A. Mayoral and Marlene Wind, September 2021, link to paper.

Freedom Lecture with Veronika Munk (and John Morijn on the panel, alongside Emilie van Outeren, Yoeri Albrecht and Pieter Klok) about the status of media freedom in Hungary, you can watch the recording of the Freedom Lecture here in case you missed it.

Our Rule of Law Festival

On 17 and 18 September, students of the Law Faculty of the University of Groningen have organised a festival about the rule of law situation in Poland – the “Our Rule of Law Festival”. The panel included Polish guests that play an important role in the fight for the rule of law in Poland, such as the judges Igor Tuleya and Dariusz Mazur, journalists Anna Wójcik and Mariusz Jałoszewski, lawyer Michał Wawrykiewicz, former Ombudsman for Civil Rights Adam Bodnar, lawyer and founder of Free Courts Civic Initiative Paulina Kieszkowska, law professor Aleksandra Gliszczyńska-Grabias, and many more. The Meijers Committe (together with NGIZ Noord) also hosted one of the panels, namely a discussion about academia’s role in the context of rule of law backsliding.

You can watch all the panels on the Youtube-channel of the Our Rule of Law Festival.

The panel by the Meijers Committee and NGIZ Noord is available here:

Rule of law update – August 2021

In our rule of law updates, we look back at the most important rule of law news of the last month. We give an overview of current events per Member State and will also mention important events, seminars and webinars on the rule of law situation in the European Union. Furthermore, we will list some important and interesting articles, books and publications concerning the rule of law. If you have any suggestions, corrections or events that you want us to mention, do not hesitate to contact us!

General

The deadline set by the Parliament for the European Commission to fully apply the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation was set for 24 August. If the European Commission does not act, the European Parliament would bring an Article 265 TEU procedure (failure to act) before the CJEU, that at least was the ultimatum set by the EP. In the last week of August, the Commission responded to the European Parliament’s request. In her letter, the Commission President von der Leyen underlines the need to operate carefully and thoroughly, and to have a “detailed analysis” on the table before Brussels takes action. The call to action, she said, is ‘not clear and precise enough’, and case law indicates that it should be. In its resolution and subsequent letter, the parliament stated that Brussels should act in the “most obvious cases”, writes Von der Leyen furthermore – and claims subsequently that the European Parliament does not mention what cases those are. Parliamentarians were not happy with the EC’s letter: Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld calls the letter “legalistic rubbish” and “a provocation and insult”, German MEP Daniel Freund calls out the EC to act immediately, saying that the Commission has enough proof to act against member states based on the Conditionality Regulation, such as in the case of Hungary where there is plenty of proof that Hungary meets the legal requirements to activate the rule of law mechanism (as can be read here in this legal opinion written by our very John Morijn, alongside Daniel R. Kelemen and Kim Lane Scheppele).

Hungary

Complaints to the Hungarian media regulator (NMHH – National Media and Infocommunications Authority) have risen significantly due to the new LGBTQI+ law, namely 69 reports since June (seven times more than in the same period last year). NMHH’s governing body, the Media Council, is made up entirely of members nominated by the ruling party. The NMHH is expected to release guidelines on the implementation of the discriminatory LGBTIQ+ law. Read more here on Euractiv, 31 August 2021.

Hungary restricts products “promoting homosexuality”, including books that “promote gender change” and containing “explicit” depictions of sexuality. The law also bans any sale of such products within 200 metres of a school or a church. euobserver, 9 August 2021.

Opinion in the euobserver by Judit Varga about a ‘politcal EU Commission’ and the rule of law report as a tool of ‘political blackmail’ that makes claims about the rule of law situation in Hungary without evidence, euobserver, 6 August 2021.


Poland

The Polish Constitutional Tribunal has postponed (for the fourth time!) to 22 September its hearing and ruling on the motion of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki regarding the supremacy of the Polish constitution over the EU treaties. The reason for the suspension was the request of the Polish Ombudsman who was involved in the proceedings, to exclude a constitutional judge from the hearing, 31 August 2021.

EU Commissioner Věra Jourová met the Polish MP Morawiecki to discuss the situation of media freedom in Poland. She also met with the new Ombudsman Marcin Wiącek. Jourová addressed the worsening situation for media freedom in the whole of Europe but also stressed that the Polish media are under increased economic and political pressure. Concerning LexTVN, Jourová said that the EC will “certainly respond” as the proposed law is an “attempted monopolization” that the EU cannot accept. Read more here on Euractiv, 31 August 2021.

Poland is building a fence along its border with Belarus, following Lithuania in its border protection against migrants sent through by Belarus. Reuters, 24 August 2021. How this fits within the bigger picture of the decline of the rule of law and the loss of “European values” as a whole, can be read in Dimitry Kochenov and Barbara Grabowska-Moroz’ article on Verfassungsblog from 25 August 2021.

16 August 2021: deadline for the Polish government to explain in writing to the European Commission how it plans to fully comply with two judgments from the EU’s top court over its disciplinary regime for judges (C‑791/19 and C-204/21). Earlier this month,  the College of Commissioners authorized Didier Reynders to trigger financial sanctions against Poland if Poland does not comply with these rulings.

Polish region upholds anti-LGBTIQ+ “declaration” announcing a “LGBTIQ+ free zone” in the Małopolska district, read more here on euobserver, 20 August 2021.

Poland responded to the European’s Commission call to suspend the activities of the Disciplinary Chamber and promised dissolve the disciplinary regime in its current form “as part of a further reform of the justice system, which will begin in the coming months”. However, the Polish government also asked the EC to waive its July interim order (C‑204/21 R) as it disregards the primacy of EU law in this matter. Unclear remains what will happen with currently pending cases of the Disciplinary Chamber and what exactly such a reform will entail. Read more here on Politico, 18 August 2021. However, experts are wary as it appears that Poland is only willing to compromise on a small part of bigger rule of law problem (including issues concerning the appointment of the Constitutional Tribunal and the National Council of Judiciary). Kaczyński however announced the introduction of a new disciplinary chamber. Read more about how this is not an all-encompassing victory for the rule of law in Poland in a  Twitter-thread by Jakub Jaraczewski, 9 August 2021. You can read what the dissolving of the Disciplinary Chamber will mean for Poland, or rather what won’t change, in this Verfassungsblog-article by Wojciech Sadurski, 11 August 2021.

Dispute between Poland and Israel over restitution law. Israel recalled its top diplomat from Warsaw and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid accused Poland of being a country  “that does not honor the greatest tragedy in human history.” This came after Polish President Duda signed a controversial law to restrict reparations for Holocaust victims. Read more here on Politico, 16 August 2021.

Poland’s new media law sparks criticism by EU. The new media rules will bar companies from beyond the EEA from owning a majority stake in Polish media companies. It is seen as a new blow against media freedom as it will likely force the American media company Discovery to sell its TVN broadcaster, one of the last local networks considered independent and critical of the PiS government’s politics. TVN’s media license expires on 26 September. What is at stake become visible when looking at the aftermath of the Orlen take-over: several editors in chief were sacked respectively replaced, journalists were forced out or left voluntarily. The Senate (led by the opposition) has 30 days to vote on the law, if it votes against the law (highely likely), PiS needs to gather an absolute majority to overpower the Senate’s veto. And finally the President has to agree. The Polish President Duda, however, recently said that he prefers media reforms based on market decisions rather than compulsory rules (Reuters, 26 August 2021). Pawel Marcisz (University of Warsaw) has more information about the inner workings of the Polish media and how the new media law threatens – the already bruised – state of media freedom in Poland, Verfassungsblog, 15 August 2021.

A recent poll by the state survey agency CBOS shows that Polish citizens are becoming more socially liberal and supportive of the LGBTIQ+ community while at the same time being more critical of the privileged the Catholic Church holds in Poland. Read more here on Notes from Poland, 6 August 2021.

The Commissioner for Human Rights, Marcin Wiącek, requested the Constitutional Tribunal to postpone a hearing planned for August 31 in the case based on Prime Minister Morawiecki’s request to examine if the CJEU rulings regarding judiciary are valid in Poland. Wiącek argues that the Constitutional Tribunal should first whether the Constitutional Tribunal is a court within the meaning of Article 6 ECHR (a case brought Prosecutor General Ziobro). Rule of Law in Poland on Twitter, 6 August 2021.

Polish Minister of Justice Ziobro: Poland should not be part of the European Union at any cost and “EU aggression should be met with a tough response”. He made those remarks in an interview in which he complains about the “blackmailing” of the EU with regard to Polish judicial reforms. Read more on Politico, 6 August 2021.

The head of Poland’s Supreme Court Manowska has ordered that no new cases to be sent to the Disciplinary Chamber that was recently ordered to be suspended by the CJEU. Poland has until 16 August to disband the activities of the Disciplinary Chamber. However, ongoing cases are not suspended by the Supreme Court, so that the head of the Disciplinary Chamber has to decide about the freezing of ongoing cases. Reuters, 5 August 2021. Justice Minister Ziobro has criticized Manowska’s decision and even claims that she is violating law, even though there has been talk of Prime Minister Morawiecki and ruling party chairman (as well as de facto-leader) Kaczyński changing their mind about a compromise with Brussels regarding the Polish judicial reforms. Read more here on Notes from Poland, 9 August 2021.

Polish politicians are concerned about rule of law situation in Germany: a court in Cologne imposed a penalty on a Polish theologian for inciting hatred through describing gay people in the Catholic clergy as “parasites” in an article. Poland sees the freedom of science in danger and is concerned about the state of the German judiciary. Read here on Politico, 2 August 2021.

Poland’s president Duda changes his opinion about the situation of the Polish judiciary and dispute with EU concerning rule of law situation in Poland. Duda said Poland has to change the way the judiciary is disciplining judges and agrees that legislative changes are needed. Read more here on Euronews, 30 July 2021.


Malta

IPI and other organisations are warning about the increased spreading of disinformation surrounding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 and journalists critical of thee handling of Galizia’s assassination are afraid of hate campaign and other repercussions. Read more here on IPI and on euobserver, 31 August 2021.

Malta has published a report about the public inquire about the case around Daphne Caruana Galizia’s death. The inquiry is seen as a milestone in the fight for accountability, press freedom and justice but many organisations urge the government to implement the recommendations made in the report. Read more on IPI, 3 August.


Romania

Romania is hoping that the EU will return soon to the issue of accession to the Schengen area. Romania says that it has fulfilled all criteria for Schengen membership since 2011. However, Romania has struggled with the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) which looks at the country’s progress in the areas of corruption and rule of law.


Slovenia

Slovenia is struggling with its appointments for the EPPO and is currently the only participating Member State that not made any appointments yet for the new EU agency that will investigate and prosecute crimes against the financial interests of the EU. Jure Vidmar (Maastricht University) wrote an article about the legal framework of the nominations, how the blockade by Slovenia came about and explains why no nominations should be expected from Slovenia in the near future. Read more here on Verfassungsblog, 27 August 2021.


Czech republic

The European Commission might halt subsidies for the Czech Republic if it does not solve the issue of conflict of interest due to Prime Minister Andrej Babis’ control of the Agrofert holding. Read more here on Euractiv, 31 August 2021.


Articles, papers, publications

6 reasons why the EU should use the approval of National Recovery and Resilience Plans to enforce the rule of law in Hungary and Poland, The Good Lobby Profs (John Morijn, Alberto Alemanno, Laurent Pech, Daniel Sarmiento), 30 August 2021, read here.

Threats to the Rule of Law: The Pitfalls of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, Radosveta Vassileva (Middlesex University), June 2021, read here.

Authority, legitimacy and the Rule of Law in EU migration policy, Julinda Beqiraj, Katri Gadd and Barbara Grabowska-Moroz, RECONNECT, August 2021, read here.

Inside the system Ziobro built, ESI Background Paper, 5 August 2021, read here.


Events in september

13 September: Freedom Lecture by Veronika Munk (deputy-in-chief index.hu, founder telex.hu) about Hungary’s continuing struggle for media freedom and plurality, panel guest include our member John Morijn, Pieter Klok (de Volkskrant), Yoeri Albrecht (de Balie, Amsterdam) and Emilie van Outeren (NRC). The event will take place in de Balie, Amsterdam, tickets are available here.

17 and 18 September: Our Rule of Law Festival at Groningen University. Students from the International and European Law programme at the Faculty of Law of the University of Groningen are organising the Our Rule of Law Festival on the rule of law in Poland. During the two-day festival, nine Polish representatives, including the Polish judge Igor Tuleya, who has been stripped of immunity, will come to Groningen to share their stories. The Meijers Committee has contributed to this festival and John Morijn (chair of the subgroup rule of law) will chair a panel on Saturday on what role academia should play in the rule of law discourse. Tickets for the events in Groningen are limited, some events can be followed online (buy your tickets here).

23 and 24 September: Conference “Tradition, Constitution and European Integration” organised by the French and Dutch Embassies in Hungary, programme and registration (the event will take place in Budapest but some parts of the conference can be followed online).