On Wednesday, the European Union’s top court cleared the way for the bloc to potentially cut billions of euros in donations to Poland and Hungary, where populist leaders are accused of violating democratic rights and freedoms.
There is no appeal against the decision of the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice, which rejected challenges from Warsaw and Budapest against a new EU sanction that would end funding for member countries that violate European laws.
“Today’s judgments confirm that we are on the right track,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, announcing that the Brussels-based EU executive would explain how it would proceed in the coming weeks. .
What is at stake are hundreds of billions of euros in funds, the EU’s internal cohesion and its international reputation.
The historic decision comes ahead of national elections on April 3 in Hungary, the closest race for Prime Minister Viktor Orban since his landslide victory in 2010.
Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, campaigning on a platform of anti-immigrant nationalism and economic populism, said the decision was “political revenge” against Hungary intended to aid an opposition alliance.
Justice Minister Judith Varga said the decision was an example of abuse of power by Brussels against national member states.
Polish Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta said: “We must defend ourselves against an attack on our sovereignty, Poland must defend its democracy against blackmail which aims to take away our right to decide for ourselves. “
Rights and values
Thirty-six billion euros ($41 billion) in pandemic recovery funds earmarked for Poland and 7 billion euros for Hungary are already frozen over their track record of democratic rights and values.
The so-called “conditionality mechanism” could affect any part of the EU budget, worth 1.8 trillion euros ($2 trillion) for 2021-27.
Poland has been a major recipient of EU funding since joining the bloc in 2004. EU aid has helped the largest ex-communist member state stave off recession in the global economic crisis and coping with the economic fallout from the COVID pandemic.
Poland is eligible for more than €75 billion until 2027, including for climate, digitalization and the health sector, areas where the country of 38 million people lags behind its peers.
“Hungary and Poland have rapidly regressed on freedom of the media, independence of judges, the right to protest and other fundamental principles of the rule of law,” Amnesty International said.
“Instead of trying to argue against EU funds being conditional on respecting the rule of law, they should respect people’s rights and clean up their act.”
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola urged the Commission to act quickly, her comments echoed by Liberals and Greens in the chamber.
EU officials told Reuters the bloc could tackle Hungary first, but more political haggling was on the cards. This means that any money would actually be confiscated at the end of this year at the earliest, if at all.
Poland and Hungary have threatened to retaliate by blocking other EU decisions that require unanimity, including on climate and energy, as well as foreign policy.