The European Commission is tomorrow set to release its second annual report critical of Hungary for having inadequate anti-corruption rules and infringing on press freedom.
The critique will form part of a broader rule-of-law report that aims to identify and help stop democratic backsliding among EU countries. Although the report is expected to focus on progress in countries like Malta and Slovakia, it will also highlight further erosion of democratic norms in countries like Poland, Slovenia and Hungary.
The report is set to reference Budapest’s lack of progress in combating corruption, and the sorry state of media freedom in the country.
“Risk of clientelism, favouritism and nepotism in high-level public administration as well as risks arising from the link between businesses and political actors remain unaddressed,” charges the Hungary chapter of the report.
The Commission’s report will focus on four key elements, considered indispensable to maintaining the rule of law: justice systems, the anti-corruption framework, media pluralism and media freedom. The first edition of the report faced criticism due to its lack of rankings, recommendations and sanctions. The level of censure aimed at Hungary and Poland, however, suggests that the Commission has more direct action in mind.
“The second edition shows that member states can make progress to address rule of law matters,” explained Vera Jourova, Vice-President for Values and Transparency.
“Yet this has been uneven and there are causes for serious concern in a number of Member States, especially when it comes to the independence of the judiciary,” she continued.
Didier Reynders, the European Commissioner for Justice, told Hungarian news site Eurologus that while the report aims to foster dialogue among member states, this does not seem to be the case with Hungary and Poland.
Reynders said until major judiciary reforms are implemented, the Commission will not endorse Hungary’s coronavirus recovery plan. Budapest’s current proposal requires €7.2 billion ($8.5 billion) in grants from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Fund.
Critics of the report, however, argue that it will only describe situations that are already well-known to the public, and far past the early stages. Moreover, many see the shortcoming of these reports as part of a broader crisis for the EU: certain national governments flout what the EU insists are basic membership rules, while the bloc’s leaders struggle to find tools or punishments that rein in these wayward members.
At the same time, threats to withhold EU funds from countries have yet to come to fruition. Legal infringement proceedings over countries’ most controversial laws are often launched, but have done little to resolve problems in Hungary, for example.
Commission officials have defended the report, arguing it is not intended to solve all the EU’s rule-of-law concerns. Instead, it should be used to raise awareness and facilitate broader conversations.