BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s new top justice official on Tuesday accused Poland and Hungary of backsliding further on democratic standards as the bloc’s ministers met to encourage them to adhere to the rule of law.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban this month pushed to tighten government control over theaters. In Poland, the ruling party is locked in a stand-off with judges critical of the judiciary overhaul that Warsaw carried despite concern that it undercut the courts’ independence.
“Unfortunately, we have seen negative evolutions in the last weeks and months since the last discussions on Poland and Hungary,” the EU’s Justice Commissioner, Belgian Didier Reynders, said ahead of talks among the bloc’s European affairs ministers.
Both countries stand accused of undercutting democratic freedoms, including in the academic and media world, and are under pressure from the EU and international rights advocates, as well as having legal cases running against them in the EU’s top court, the European Court of Justice.
Ministers representing Finland, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany and France stressed the need to uphold the rule of law unequivocally in the EU as they arrived for a fresh discussion on their concerns about policies pushed by Budapest and Warsaw.
“This procedure leads us nowhere. It is based on false accusations and it raises mistrust among member states,” Hungary’s Justice Minister Judit Varga said on arriving to the meeting.
Renders also said the EU had “a problem” with Malta, where socialist Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced he would step down amid a crisis over the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had exposed government corruption.
Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Marine Strauss, Jorrit Donner-Wittkopf; Editing by Angus MacSwan