Respect for the rule of law in Poland and Hungary has deteriorated since Brussels opened infringement procedures against the two member states for failing to meet fundamental EU values, MEP’s warned on Thursday.
In a resolution in Strasbourg, a large majority of MEPs expressed their “concern” that the measures adopted to “realign” Warsaw and Budapest with EU norms on judicial independence and freedom of expression had “led to no significant progress”.
In Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s PiS (“law and justice”) party has been carrying out reforms since 2015 that critics say threaten the independence of the judiciary and the media.
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party have also been roundly criticised for reforms seen as endangering the independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression, as well as policies affecting the rights of minorities, and the situation of migrants and refugees.
In 2018, article 7 procedures were brought against both member states for enacting policies deemed to constitute a “systematic threat” to EU values.
Article 7 is often referred to as a “nuclear option,” as it can ultimately lead to a suspension of voting rights in the European Council, the body where the 28 member states execute EU legislation.
However, according to MEPs the EU’s failure to properly implement the infringement procedures provided for by Article 7 has resulted in a deterioration of the rule of law situation in both countries.
“The Council’s failure to use Article 7 effectively continues to undermine the integrity of common European values, mutual trust and the credibility of the Union as a whole,” the resolution said.
The MEPs complain that they have not been invited to the hearings organised by the Council on the implementation of Article 7, and that the hearings have been “neither regular nor structured”.
In practice, the sanction provided for in Article 7 is difficult to apply, since it requires a unanimous vote of the European States, meaning that Hungary can block any sanction against Poland and vice versa, something that each government has promised to do.
To avoid this paralysis, the European Parliament calls for the establishment of a protection of the rule of law mechanism, namely an annual report assessing the respect of European values by all the Member States. There have also been calls for EU funds to be cut off from member states that fail to comply with EU norms.