Poland, Hungary hit back on democratic standards in the EU

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Threatened with the potential loss of European Union funds over their records on democracy, the governments of Poland and Hungary say they plan to establish a new institute to assess how well all EU member nations adhere to the rule of law.

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The foreign ministers of the two right-wing governments said the new institute of comparative law will supply them with information on the state of democracy across Europe and prevent what they called “double standards.” It was not clear when the institute would open.

“The goal of the institute of comparative law is that we are not taken for fools,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Monday, adding that he was fed up with “some west European politicians using us as a punchbag.”

Szijjarto said he thinks the governments of Poland and Hungary are at odds with other EU countries because they pursue policies based on Christian foundations that are intolerable to the “international liberal mainstream.”

Polish opposition lawmaker Marcin Kierwinski was not impressed. He tweeted that the institute plan was “something like North Korea and Venezuela setting up an institute for the flourishing of capitalism.”

EU governing bodies have accused the two governments for several years of violating the bloc’s rule-of-law standards, and the bloc is pursuing sanction procedures against Hungary and Poland .

The sticking points in Poland are the government's steps to take control of the justice system, and especially the judiciary. In Hungary, it's a number of government-sponsored laws targeting media freedoms, minority rights, the electoral system and academic and religious freedoms.

One of the proposed sanctions is to link the level of EU funding for member nations in some parts of the 2021-27 budget to national rule-of-law standards. Poland and Hungary are protesting the idea, saying they are not being assessed fairly. They have vowed to block any financial sanctions.

The two countries, EU members since 2004, have received many times more funds from EU coffers than they contribute. The funds are spent widely to develop various areas of life, from roads and clean environment facilities to local communities and civic society.

The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, has initiated a new annual mechanism, the “rule of law review cycle,” that vets the state of democracy and the rule of law in all member nations. The first review report is to be discussed at a news conference Wednesday.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said recently that the rule of law is a crucial value because it “helps protect people from the rule of the powerful. It is the guarantor of our most basic of every-day rights and freedoms.”

The annual review is a “preventive tool for early detection of challenges and for finding solutions” and to “ensure that there is no backsliding.”

In a Saturday interview with Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, EU Values Commissioner Vera Jourova said the report draws an “alarming” picture and that Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban was veering away from Western democracy.

Orban wrote von der Leyen on Monday to demand Jourova's resignation. The European Commission's spokesperson said Tuesday that Jourova had von der Leyen's support.