The Czech Republic will be an “honest broker” over rule of law matters, especially with its neighbours Poland and Hungary, during its presidency of the EU Council, Commissioner Věra Jourová affirmed to Euronews.
Prague takes the rotating six-month presidency over from Paris on Friday and has outlined among its priorities the bloc’s response to Russia’s war in Ukraine, energy security, defence, economic resilience and how to tackle the spiralling cost of living crisis and the boosting trade relations with third countries.
But Věra Jourová, the Commissioner for Values and Transparency who hails from the Czech Republic, said that Prague will also focus on strengthening democracy across the bloc.
“The Czech Representation (the country’s diplomatic staff in Brussels) will play the role of the honest broker of the open continuing dialogue on the rule of law matters,” she told Euronews.
Regarding Poland and Hungary, which have both been at odds with Brussels over reforms that weakened the independence of the judiciary, media and civil society or that targeted women and minorities’ rights, the Commissioner said that as “they are native neighbours of Czechia” it is likely to be “geographically complicated” for the county.
The three countries, along with Slovakia, form the Visegrad Group, a cultural and political alliance with regular meetings. But cracks in the groups’ unity started to appear when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February and widened as rounds of EU sanctions against Moscow were imposed — especially between Warsaw and Budapest.
Poland has taken one of the EU’s strongest stances against Russia while Hungary and its Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, have been increasingly vocal against and resistant to sanctions against Moscow.
But Jourová emphasised that despite this, “I believe that the Representation will take it as a task to facilitate a debate and to do more to strengthen the principle of rule of law in Europe as such.”
Brussels triggered its new rule of law mechanism against Budapest in late April due to concerns about corruption and allegations that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his allies have funnelled EU money away from their intended recipients including NGOs.
The mechanism, approved by the European Court of Justice earlier this year following a challenge by Hungary and Poland, would allow the EU’s Executive to withhold EU funds to member states that violate the bloc’s core values over the rule of law.
Meanwhile, the Commission and Warsaw are currently at loggerheads over the disbursement of the EU’s recovery fund. Brussels has said it would not release the first tranche of funds until Poland makes changes to certain controversial judicial reforms including replacing a disciplinary regime of judges.
Jourová also highlighted that she expects the Czech Presidency to take on with “full speed and responsibility” the Media Freedom Act she will present at the beginning of September.
“I believe that the Media Freedom Act could have a positive impact on strengthening democracy while strengthening media,” she told Euronews.
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