Lawmakers Press EU Over Hungary, Poland Rights Concerns

BRUSSELS (AP) -- European Union lawmakers ratcheted up pressure on the EU's executive arm Thursday to take action against Hungary and Poland over concerns about democratic backsliding in the two countries that could restrict their access to EU funds.

The EU Parliament voted 529-150 with 14 abstentions in favor of a resolution that urges the European Commission, to quickly investigate any possible rule of law breaches "that affect or seriously risk affecting the sound financial management of the Union budget."

Hungary and Poland both are led by right-wing populist governments and have been mired in EU proceedings over concerns that they are violating European standards with laws and practices that threaten the independence of judges, media freedoms and personal liberties.

The two countries' economies have benefited significantly from EU money since they joined the bloc in 2004. Unable to alter the political course of either nation, the European Commission proposed linking access to common funds to their adherence to democratic principles.

Hungary and Poland initially tried to block the EU's 2021-2017 budget and recovery package to thwart the introduction of the "rule of law mechanism," but they eventually agreed to the plan on condition that Europe's top court would review it. They filed a legal challenge in March.

The commission seems content to wait for the European Court of Justice's verdict, even as a law that took effect in Hungary on Hungary raised deep concern about efforts to curtain LGBT rights in the country. But lawmakers have said they will take legal action against what they describe as "non-action" by Brussels.

At the same time, the commission is yet to decide whether to accept Hungary's national plan for securing access to more than 7 billion euros ($8.3 billion) in grants to help revitalize its pandemic-hit economy. The deadline for it to rule expires on July 12.

"Again, we find ourselves talking about the rule of law conditionality mechanism. But when will we finally see some action? The mechanism came into force on 1 January, and yet it hasn't been implemented," Eider Gardiazabal Rubial, a Spanish Socialist member of the European Parliament, said.

"We agreed on a regulation, and we expect it to finally be applied," she said.

Beyond demanding that the mechanism be applied immediately, the EU parliamentarians called on the commission to clarify how the systems works and set out a "clear, precise and user-friendly system" for submitting complaints about possible rule of law abuses.