The European Union may move in a matter of weeks to punish countries that don’t uphold the bloc’s democratic standards by withholding emergency pandemic aid as well as payments from the EU’s trillion-euro budget, according to Bloomberg.
Poland, which has clashed with the EU on multiple rule-of-law fronts, stands to miss out on more than 130 billion euros from the bloc’s seven-year budget. Hungary could lose more than 40 billion euros.
The EU has accused the governments in Warsaw and Budapest of illegal judicial revamps, corruption and refusing to adhere to the primacy of EU law, a key premise of the bloc’s founding treaty. The flow of billions of euros from Brussels has helped transform the two economies, but the EU has become wary of funds being used by the governments to undermine democracy and to attack the bloc.
In a move last year condemned by both Poland and Hungary, the EU gained the power to withhold budget payments to countries accused of democratic backsliding. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, may trigger this so-called conditionality mechanism as soon as early February, once the European Court of Justice has ruled on its legality, according to an official familiar with the plan.
The ruling could coincide with a January 24 deadline for Hungary and Poland to respond to EU concerns that funds provided by the bloc could have been misused or that the bloc’s financial interests are at risk.
The Commission has asked Poland to dismantle a chamber it created to discipline judges, reinstate judges who lost their positions in disciplinary proceedings and reform the system, the official said.
Warsaw hasn’t budged, even after the EU’s top court slapped the country with a record 1 million-euro daily fine in October for failing to halt the disciplinary proceedings. That came on top of a 500,000-euro daily fine a month earlier for ignoring an order to close a coal mine near the Czech border.
The EU is now preparing to withhold some budget payments to Poland for failing to pay up. Its combined fines have grown more than 100 million euros and with no change in sight in Warsaw, the numbers will keep increasing.
Poland “gives no signs of improvements and judges continue to be under pressure,” the EU’s vice president in charge of values, Vera Jourova, wrote in a January 11 Twitter post. “We will continue to do our duty to defend the rule of law and judicial independence.”