As Brussels increases its pressure on judicial independence, Poland and Hungary have two months to respond to a series of suspected violations of the rule of law that may threaten their EU funds.
On Friday, Brussels sent a letter to the ambassadors of Poland and Hungary to the European Union, in which they raised a series of detailed questions about possible violations of the rule of law in Warsaw and Budapest and their impact on the protection of EU funds.
The letters seen by the British “Financial Times” mark an informal step in Brussels in the coming months to decide whether to initiate a new rule of law mechanism that will allow the withholding of EU funds.
European Commission President Ursula von der Lein said that with Brussels’ response to Polish rule of law issues, triggering the mechanism is one of the options on the table.
The letter to Warsaw involved judicial and prosecutorial services, and the committee had asked Hungary to provide information about the country’s public procurement system and the independence of its courts.
The committee has been engaged in a long-term legal battle over changes to the Polish court system, which it says threatens judicial independence and the basic legal bond that unites the European Union.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party stated that these changes are necessary to improve efficiency, and Brussels has no right to intervene in what it considers to be domestic affairs.
The tension between Brussels and Warsaw Upgrade in October When the country’s Supreme Court ruled that key elements of EU law were inconsistent with its constitution.
The deadlock delayed Poland’s approval of Brussels’ 36 billion euro Covid-19 economic recovery plan.
Some member states and some members of the committee called for the launch of a new conditional mechanism, which may threaten the tens of billions of euros that the European Union pays to Warsaw each year.
Hungary will receive 7.2 billion euros from the recovery fund.
The letters sent to Warsaw and Budapest do not mark the official launch of the mechanism, but they are a step in this direction.
Hungary has been asked to clarify the “persistent” flaws and weaknesses in the country’s procurement rules, which have raised concerns about corruption related to the decentralization of EU funds.
Brussels has asked the Viktor Orban government to provide a list of the 10 individuals or groups that received the highest share of the billion-euro EU agricultural subsidies that Hungary received.
The letter to the Polish government contains a series of detailed questions about judicial development.
Issues raised include a Polish court ruling this fall that part of EU law is inconsistent with the country’s constitution, and a July ruling on interim measures ordered by the European Court of Justice. The letter asked how Poland will ensure compliance with laws governing the protection of EU funds based on these decisions.
The letter also raised questions about the Polish prosecutor’s office, including the merger of the Polish Attorney General’s Office with its Attorney General, and the dismissal of some prosecutors in recent years.
The letter stated that if the prosecution agency is not properly effective and impartial, this may have an impact on cases concerning the management of EU funds.
The committee also questioned Poland’s investigation of corruption and conflict of interest cases, and asked whether it would properly handle cases involving the use of EU funds.
The committee stated that challenges to the independence of the Polish judiciary may also affect the “effectiveness and impartiality” of judicial procedures related to the management of EU funds, and “posed a risk to the protection of the EU’s financial interests.”
Poland is under pressure to dismantle the Judges Disciplinary Chamber that the European Court of Justice has deemed illegal.
Polish officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.