Hungary, Poland challenge tying budget to rights standards

Poland and Hungary sent to court a new EU rule that links the bloc's budget to basic democratic standards, news wires reported. The cases at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) mark a new showdown between the two EU Member States accused of democratic backsliding and Brussels. The new rule of law mechanism was built into the 2021-27 spending plan and 750-billion-euro coronavirus stimulus fund.

According to the Luxembourg-based ECJ, the countries lodged two different complaints to the rule, which allows cash to be withheld if there are violations of certain standards, such as the undermining of judicial independence. Warsaw and Budapest, which are the subject of growing concern over the erosion of core democratic standards and are facing multiple cases at the bloc's top court, had protested that this was ideologically-fuelled meddling in their domestic affairs.

"We believe that such solutions have no legal basis in the treaties, interfere with competences of member states and infringe on EU law," Polish government spokesperson Piotr Mueller said in a statement. "Disbursement of funds from the EU budget should be based only on meeting objective and concrete conditions, which unequivocally stem from regulations," he added. The EU had no competence to define the term "rule of law," nor to determine the factors used to assess whether rules behind that term are being observed, the government statement reads.

After months of opposition, Poland and Hungary had dropped their veto against the mechanism in exchange for an additional statement that effectively permitted a delay in the start of the tool. This allowed the two sceptical states to take the mechanism to the ECJ for scrutiny.

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