Media freedom and judicial independence are coming under increasing threat in Hungary and Poland, while corruption remains a major challenge in both EU members, the European Commission said in a new rule-of-law report.
The European Union has repeatedly warned that democratic standards are being challenged in Hungary and Poland.
The commission also singled out Slovenia, which currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the 27-member bloc, for violating the freedom of the local media, citing online harassment and threats against Slovenian journalists.
“There are causes for serious concern in a number of member states, especially when it comes to the independence of judiciary,” said Vera Jourova, the commission's vice president for values and transparency, the bloc's top rule-of-law official.
The report found that Poland was not up to standards in the four main areas reviewed: justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media freedom, and checks and balances.
Last week, the EU's top court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), found that the Polish Supreme Court's disciplinary chamber does not guarantee impartiality and independence and infringes upon the independence of the judiciary, running counter to EU law.
Jourova on July 20 gave Poland less than one month to come up with clarifications on how it was complying with the ECJ's ruling or face hefty financial penalties.
"Poland needs to inform us of the measures foreseen by August 16," Jourova said.
The report also blasted Hungary for lack of proper anti-corruption measures, while warning that media freedom and pluralism “remain at risk."
In Hungary, "risks of clientelism, favoritism, and nepotism in high-level public administration as well as risks arising from the link between businesses and political actors remain unaddressed," a summary of the report says.
At a summit last month, EU leaders blasted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban over new legislation that bans the display of LGBT material to children, while the European Commission also started legal action against both Hungary and Poland for what the EU’s executive arm sees as blatant disrespect for the rights of LGBT people.
According to the EU's executive arm, reforms of the Polish justice system carried out over the past six years continue to increase the influence of the government over the justice system, damaging judicial independence.
The report also pointed out a risk of “undue influence on corruption prosecutions for political purposes" and noted a deterioration of working conditions for journalists, “with use of intimidating judicial proceedings."
The conclusions of the report threaten to bring serious consequences for Budapest and Warsaw.
A new mechanism introduced last year amid growing concerns over the democratic backsliding in the two Central European countries links observing the rule of law and democratic standards to the disbursement of EU funds, allowing Brussels to withhold the money in case of severe violations.