Corrosive issue at heart of EU laid bare by Ukraine war as Poland hit with major sanction

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More than two million people have fled Ukraine after Russia’s invasion, with 1.4 million welcomed by Poland and 214,000 by Hungary up to March 9, according to the United Nations. But that did not stop 478 MEPs voting on Thursday in favour of punishing both countries.

A total of 155 MEPs voted against adopting an EU resolution calling on the European Commission to take action against both countries. There were 29 abstentions, according to the European Parliament.

Claire Fox, who was elected to serve in the European Parliament in 2019, described the vote as “grotesque” in a tweet.

Austin Williams, director of the Future Cities Project, tweeted: “One for the Remainers: The European Commission said: ‘EU law has primacy over national law, including constitutional provisions.’

“EU fines Poland for refusing to accept it. Did Poland ask for permission to take in all those refugees? How dare they.”

Sanctions

MEPs voted to sanction Poland and Hungary where more than a million refugees have found sanctuary (Image: Getty)

The flags of the member states of the European Union blow in the wind at dusk in front of the European Parliament

Flags of the member states of the European Union in front of the European Parliament building (Image: Getty)

It comes after the EU’s top court dismissed in February a Polish and Hungarian challenge to a new law which would allow the bloc to cut funds to member countries found to have violated democratic rights and freedoms.

In its final ruling, the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) dismissal marked a milestone in the EU’s feud with Poland and Hungary’s populist rulers over the undermining of the rule of law.

Hungary and Poland have been criticised for curbing the rights of women, LGBTQ+ people and migrants as well as stifling the freedom of courts, media, academics and NGOs.

The ECJ’s February ruling sealed approval for the bloc’s strongest tool yet to prevent shared spending from benefiting those found bending liberal democratic laws.

The so-called “conditionality mechanism” could affect any part of the EU budget, which amounts to 1.8 trillion euros over 2021-27.

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Claire Fox poses during a photo session in her office at the European Parliament

Claire Fox described the move as ‘grotesque’ (Image: Getty)

Young mother from Ukraine seen with her little children waiting for help at the Scouts House in Gdansk

A young mother from Ukraine with her children wait for help in Poland (Image: Getty)

Thursday’s resolution demands the European Commission take urgent action and immediately trigger the mechanism by notifying Poland and Hungary in writing.

A statement on the European Parliament’s website says: “Parliament stresses that it is ‘high time’ for the Commission to fulfil its duties as the guardian of the EU Treaties and react to the ongoing violations of the principles of the rule of law in some EU member states, which pose a danger to the European Union’s financial interests.”

It adds that the resolution text states: “Inaction towards oligarchic structures weakens the entire European Union… taxpayers’ money needs to be protected against those who undermine the EU’s values.”

The statement continues: “MEPs consider the Commission’s response to the ECJ rulings of February 16, 2022 ‘inadequate’ and underline that the Commission has a duty to implement EU legislation ‘regardless of electoral timetables in the member states’.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban faces a tight election on April 3. His Fidesz party has been campaigning on a platform of anti-immigrant nationalism and economic populism. It polled just two points ahead of the opposition in January.

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Hungary’s track record on democratic rights has already cost it access to seven billion euros in EU pandemic funds – about five percent of GDP.

Overall, it is eligible for at least 22.5 billion euros from the EU by 2027, while Poland is eligible for 75 billion euros.

Displaced Ukrainians at Warsaw West bus station

Displaced Ukrainians at Warsaw West bus station (Image: Getty)

The conditionality mechanism came into force on January 1, 2021, but the Commission has not applied it yet.

Poland and Hungary challenged the measure in the ECJ on March 11 last year but the Court dismissed both appeals on February 16.

Today’s resolution comes as eastern Europe braces for a surge of refugees from shelled towns and cities in Ukraine as fighting intensifies.

Authorities and NGOs in Poland have voiced concerns that vulnerable refugees could fall victim to crime, including passport theft, attempts to force them into begging, stealing or prostitution.

Meanwhile, a top Polish court ruled on Thursday that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) could not question the appointment of Polish judges in a verdict which could further strain Warsaw’s relations with the EU.

Poland’s conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party is now calling for European solidarity and EU funds to help deal with the influx of refugees.

The country’s Constitutional Tribunal said the Strasbourg-based ECHR had no right to question the appointment of Polish judges.

Judge Mariusz Muszynski, who was considered illegally appointed by the ECHR, said: “The ECHR does not have the right to modify the authentic text according to the judges’ own vision.”

Roy Walsh

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