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EC rule of law report raises concerns over Hungary

The European Commission outlined a number of concerns regarding judicial independence, media pluralism, and anti-corruption mechanisms in Hungary in a rule of law report published on Wednesday, according to a report by state news wire MTI.

The EC said a call for Hungary to strengthen its judicial independence "remains to be addressed" and noted a "systematic lack of determined action" to address high-level corruption cases in the rule of law report covering all EU Member States.

The commission noted that judicial independence in Hungary had been raised by EU institutions "as a source of concern", including an Article 7 procedure launched by the European Parliament that could ultimately strip Hungary of its Council voting rights.

"The call for strengthening judicial independence, made in the context of the European Semester, remains to be addressed," the EC said.

It said that independent control mechanisms in Hungaryʼs institutional anti-corruption framework are "deficient", adding that "tight interconnections between politics and certain national businesses are conducive to corruption".

"When serious allegations arise, there is a systematic lack of determined action to investigate and prosecute corruption cases involving high-level officials or their immediate circle," the EC said.

The commission noted that Hungaryʼs anti-corruption framework is weakened further by "shrinking possibilities of civic oversight in the context of restrictions to media freedom", "a hostile environment for civil society organizations" and "constant new challenges in the application of the transparency and access to public information rules".

The EC also added that media concentration through the creation of the Central European Press and Media Foundation, known by its Hungarian acronym KESMA, has "increased risks to media pluralism", adding that "significant amounts of state advertising channeled to pro-government outlets have permitted the Government to exert indirect political influence over the media".

"Independent media outlets face systematic obstruction and intimidation, while a trend of economic take-over of such outlets raises additional concern," the report says. "The transparency and quality of the legislative process is a source of concern as the use of public consultations and impact assessments has diminished."

Justice Minister Dismisses Report

Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga dismissed the rule of law report, calling it "absurd" and "false".

"The commissionʼs Rule of Law Report is absurd and false. It cannot serve as a basis for any further discussion on rule of law in the European Union. The concept and methodology of the commissionʼs rule of law report is flawed, its sources are unbalanced and its content is unfounded," Varga said on her Facebook page.

She faulted the report for making no reference to "objective benchmarks" and said the choice of sources in the report is "biased and non-transparent".

"It is unacceptable that the commissionʼs rule of law report is written by organizations from a centrally financed international network engaged in a coordinated political campaign against Hungary," she said, adding that of the twelve civil society organizations mentioned in the reportʼs chapter on Hungary "eleven...have in recent years received financial support from the Open Society Foundations related to Mr. Soros," referring to billionaire investor and long-time Hungarian government bête noire George Soros.

Responding to the suggestion in the report that media pluralism in Hungary is under threat, Varga said Hungary is "one of few" members states in which "genuine pluralism prevails in the media".

"In contrast to the Western European media landscape massively dominated by leftist and liberal outlets, the Hungarian situation is more balanced as conservative and Christian Democratic views also have a meaningful access to publicity," she claimed.

"An objective and impartial analysis of all reliable information concerning the situation in Hungary may only conclude that the fundamental values of the European Union are respected, and rule of law is observed," Varga argued.