The EU Commission has been locking horns with the two member states for months over rule of law disputes. But it is yet to issue sanctions against either government despite calls from the European Parliament to do so and rulings by the European Court of Justice against the two countries.
European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said Brussels will refrain from issuing financial penalties to Hungary before the country’s general election.
The Commissioner told Politico that Brussels will be waiting for a judgement by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on the legality of the bloc’s rule of law mechanism which is expected on February 16.
An extensive round of negotiations between the EU and Hungary will follow, pushing the decision to only after the April elections, Mr Raynders said.
He also appeared to justify the Commission delays in taking action against Poland with the excuse that negotiations with the coalition parties in government in Poland are difficult to manage.
He said: “In Poland, I’ve seen different members of the government.
“And I’ve seen that there were some attempts to come out with draft law.
“What is very clear [is] that in many member states, not only in Poland, there are coalitions, and there are millions of discussions inside the coalitions.”
The comments sparked Guy Verhofstadt’s calls for the entire Commission team to be replaced.
The Belgian MEP said: “This is not the ‘political Commission’ we asked for.
“Not applying EU rule of law standards in Poland or Hungary gives Orbán and the PiS exactly what they want and is in contempt of the European Parliament.
“If the Commission won’t do its job, we need to replace it with people that will.”
Poland and Hungary have fallen foul of a new EU regulation that links the disbursement of funds from the 27-nation bloc’s long-term budget to respect for the rule of law.
The law, in place since the start of 2021, gives the Commission teeth in its battles over democratic values with nationalist and eurosceptic governments in both countries, after years of diplomatic pressure produced no results.
The Commission has already separately frozen billions of euros in grants to Budapest and Warsaw from its post-pandemic recovery fund, citing the same concerns.
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It believes both countries fall short of fundamental EU standards – because Poland’s judiciary is no longer independent, and because it has found that much of the EU money used for public procurement in Hungary goes to suppliers linked to the ruling Fidesz party. Both mean EU funds could be spent improperly.
Last November, the Commission asked both governments to clarify how they planned to address its concerns.
Both countries have challenged the regulation in the EU’s top court and a verdict is expected in February. If the court sides with its advocate general, who last year recommended throwing out the challenge, the Commission will be free to act.
EU officials said they did not expect any Polish and Hungarian replies to break new ground because there have been no legal changes in either country to address the EU’s concerns.
If the Commission is not satisfied with the responses, it will have one month to prepare its proposal to freeze EU money to Poland and Hungary, and EU governments will then have a month to approve it with a qualified majority vote.