S&Ds: we need much bolder actions against Hungary and Poland, to stop an undemocratic virus from spreading across Europe

On the request of the Socialist and Democrats, the Parliament is debating today the situation in Hungary and Poland as both countries continue to push the boundaries when it comes to undermining the rule of law, democracy, and fundamental rights.

In the resolution that will be voted on tomorrow, S&Ds are sending a reminder that member states must respect the primacy of EU law and call on the Council and the new European Commission to use all instruments at their disposal, including infringement procedures, and applications for interim measures before the Court of Justice, to defend democracy in Europe. The S&D Group is also pushing for a new EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights to assess the situation in all member states on an annual, independent basis with specific recommendations and potential budgetary consequences.

The S&D Group is standing by NGOs and civil society in both countries, who are continuing their important work on the ground despite a political hostile environment from respective governments.

S&D MEP Juan Fernandez López Aguilar, EP rapporteur on Poland and chair of the committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs, said:

“In just a few years, the PiS government has put in place a series of reforms that are drastically changing the character of democracy in Poland. After taking over and crippling the Constitutional Tribunal, and totally politicising the National Council of the judiciary, the PiS has now moved to an unprecedented level of undermining democracy. As we heard at today’s meeting in Strasbourg with a number of Polish judges, they are being threatened with severe disciplinary proceedings and face harassment campaigns for defending the independence of the judiciary! In addition, the new law, currently before the Polish Senate, would make it easier to punish or fire judges who are critical of the government’s judicial reforms that were found in violation of EU law by the European Court of Justice! This poses an existential threat not only to individual judges, but also to one of the EU’s fundamental principles: the equal application and primacy of EU law in all member states.

“We welcome the European Commission’s decision yesterday to ask the EU Court of Justice to impose interim measures ordering Poland to suspend the functioning of the Disciplinary Chamber of Supreme Court. We call on the European Commission to keep using all legal and political tools to prevent this new law from coming into force. There can be no compromise when it comes to respecting the rule of law.”

Sylwia Spurek, S&D MEP and shadow rapporteur on Hungary, added:

“Let’s face it: the Article 7 procedure does not work. Not only in the case of Poland, but also when it comes to Hungary. After having violated the independence of judges and the freedom of speech, Viktor Orbán’s government is attempting to restrict how cultural and arts institutions are being run. By restructuring the financing and leadership of cultural institutions, Orbán is aiming to put cultural institutions under his political control. Sadly, it feels like Orbán’s government is able to act with a sense of complete impunity. Irregular and untransparent hearings held under Article 7, without the involvement of the European Parliament, failed to bring any progress or concrete recommendations.

“This is why the time has come for new mechanisms. To begin with, let’s tie the extent of a country’s compliance with the rule of law to EU funds. This seems to be the only viable solution to allow for the introduction of change in Poland and Hungary, and the only solution to effectively deter other countries from violating EU principles.”