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