Poland and Hungary have two months to respond to a series of questions about alleged rule of law violations that could threaten their EU funding as Brussels steps up pressure on judicial independence.
Brussels sent letters to the Polish and Hungarian ambassadors to the EU on Friday, which set out a series of detailed questions about possible rule of law violations in Warsaw and Budapest and their implications for the protection of the EU. EU money.
The letters, seen by the FT, mark an informal step towards a decision in the coming months by Brussels on whether to trigger a new rule of law conditionality mechanism, which would allow EU funds to be withheld.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said triggering the mechanism was one of the options on the table as Brussels responds to rule of law concerns in Poland.
The letter sent to Warsaw concerns judicial and prosecution services, while the committee asked Hungary to provide information on the country’s public procurement system and the independence of its courts.
The committee is engaged in a long legal battle over changes to the Polish judicial system which it believes threaten judicial independence and the fundamental legal ties between the EU.
Poland’s ruling party, Law and Justice, says changes are needed to increase efficiency and that Brussels has no right to interfere in what it sees as a national matter.
Tensions between Brussels and Warsaw escalated in October when the country’s highest court ruled that key elements of EU law were incompatible with its constitution.
The deadlock has delayed approval of Poland’s € 36 billion Covid-19 economic stimulus plan from Brussels.
Some member states and parts of the committee have called for the activation of the new conditionality mechanism, which could threaten tens of billions of euros in annual EU funds paid to Warsaw.
Hungary is expected to receive € 7.2 billion from the stimulus fund.
The letters sent to Warsaw and Budapest do not mark a formal triggering of the mechanism, but they constitute a step in this direction.
Hungary was invited to provide clarification on the “persistent” loopholes and weaknesses in the country’s procurement rules that have fueled concerns about corruption linked to the dispersion of EU funds.
Brussels has asked Viktor Orban’s government to provide a list of the 10 people or groups who receive the largest share of the billions of euros in EU farm subsidies that Hungary receives.
The letter to the Polish government contains a series of detailed questions on judicial developments.
Among the issues raised is a Polish court ruling this fall that found parts of EU law to be incompatible with the country’s constitution, as well as a July ruling on interim measures ordered by the court. European justice system. The letter asks how Poland will ensure compliance with laws regarding the protection of EU money, in light of these decisions.
The letter also raises questions about the services of the Polish prosecution service, including the merger of the office of the Polish Minister of Justice with his Prosecutor General, as well as the dismissal of a number of prosecutors in recent years.
If the prosecution service is not properly efficient and impartial, this could have implications for cases concerning the management of EU funds, the letter said.
The committee also raises questions about the prosecution of corruption and conflict of interest cases in Poland, asking whether cases involving the use of EU money will be properly handled.
The challenges to the independence of the Polish judiciary could also affect the “efficiency and impartiality” of legal proceedings relating to the management of EU funds, the committee said, “creating a risk for protection of the financial interests of the European Union “.
Poland is under pressure to dismantle a controversial disciplinary chamber for judges which the European Court of Justice has ruled illegal.
Polish officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.