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Hungary challenges rule of law mechanism at ECJ

Mar 11 2021

By   !!444 InsightHungary!!!  (*) 

Hungary and Poland on Thursday launched a challenge with the European Court of Justice over a so-called rule of law mechanism in the European Union’s budget that would link payment of EU funds to upholding of democratic standards.

The decision to bring the case before the ECJ came on the final day allowed for launching a challenge to the December budget agreement, ensuring that a final decision will be reached as late as possible. Poland and Hungary, the two largest net recipients of EU funds, fiercely opposed the rule of law conditions during negotiations last year, arguing they would be used as an ideological tool to punish countries that reject immigration. All other EU member states supported the measures, which were designed to protect EU funds from fraud and corruption.

The two countries in November vetoed adoption of the 2021-2027 budget and a coronavirus recovery package together worth €1.8 trillion, angering other member states desperate to receive financial aid amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In a Facebook post Thursday, Justice Minister Judit Varga wrote that the rule of law mechanism “seriously infringes legal certainty.” 

“The left went too far when it launched an attack on Hungary in the middle of the pandemic,” Varga wrote. “We repelled this attack and managed to defend Hungarian interests concerning the EU budget. However, what is unlawful cannot be left without a word…Let common sense win again!”

At a Thursday session of the European Parliament in Brussels, Commissioner for Budget and Administration Johannes Hahn said the rule of law mechanism was a “historical achievement for the Union” which gives it the tools to protect its budget from breaches of the principles of the rule of law. The Commission would initiate procedures under the mechanism without delay if necessary, he added. 

Klubrádió frequency application denied by Media Council

Hungary’s media regulator has denied liberal broadcaster Klubrádió’s application for an FM radio frequency, all but guaranteeing the station will be able to broadcast online-only in the future.

The Media Council argued that Klubrádió’s application for 92.9 FM “contained contradictions and objective errors,” and that its programming plan “did not meet the basic requirements of radio broadcasting.” Klubrádió was the only eligible applicant for the frequency, which the Media Council earlier declined to extend citing minor data reporting infractions by the station.

As we reported in February, Klubrádió challenged the Media Council’s decision not to grant the automatic license extension in a Budapest court, but the challenge was dismissed. The station argued that the Media Council had acted discriminatorily, claiming that other stations had committed the same or worse offenses but still had their licenses extended. The Council is a five-member body, and each of the current members were nominated by the ruling Fidesz party.

The decisions by the Media Council and court led to accusations of a continuing media crackdown in Hungary by the Fidesz-led government. The European Commission in February urged the government to allow Klubrádió to continue broadcasting, and said the loss of its broadcasting frequency had occurred “on the basis of highly questionable legal grounds.” 

Several foreign departments and numerous international media outlets reacted to the case, including Ned Price, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, who wrote in a statement, “We are deeply concerned about declining media pluralism in Hungary. The imminent loss of the broadcasting license of one of the country’s most popular radio stations, Klubradio, threatens the departure of yet another independent voice from Hungary’s airwaves.”

On a statement on its website, Klubrádió wrote that it would “challenge the unlawful Media Council decision, and will continue its programming in an unchanged form online, independently of future court decisions.”

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!!444 InsightHungary!!!,  is one of the few independent media  beyond the control of autocrat Viktor Orbán.

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