Poland and Hungary could have their financial aid from the EU withdrawn in a bid to apply pressure on the member states to increase their human rights standards, it has been reported.
The European Commission is under growing pressure from the European parliament to wield its power over the allocation of billions of euros in regional aid.
The governments of Poland and Hungary have been heavily criticised over their treatment of LGBTQ+ people living in their countries. Hungary recently adopted a law banishing the depiction of LGBTQ+ people in books and TV for under-18s, a measure denounced as “shameful” by the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen.
In Poland, more than 100 towns and villages have passed resolutions in favour of “LGBT-ideology-free zones”. In an attempt to challenge them over their behaviour, the EU executive launched a legal action against both member states over the issues in July.
Now the Financial Times has reported that the European Commission is being encouraged to withhold regional aid - or “cohesion funds” - from the nations. Such a move would be a significant escalation of the ongoing tussle between the two sides.
The money is usually ear-marked to even out the economic disparities across the European Union. Poland was allocated up to €121bn in the EU’s latest budget, while Hungary was allocated €38bn.
A senior EU diplomat said the move would be a “total game-changer”, adding: “There is no real competence in terms of [the commission] being able to use issues like this to withhold cohesion money... It is crossing a Rubicon.”
Officials in the EU commission have been looking at how they could use the EU’s charter of fundamental rights to influence the distribution of money. They are already required to check for compliance with the charter before dishing out funds.
Commission vice-president for EU values, Vera Jourova, told the FT that they would take these powers “very seriously”, adding: “We are working now internally to ensure how this will work in practice.”
She said: “It makes perfect sense that EU taxpayers’ money should be spent where these rights are respected. We simply have to make sure that the authorities will not discriminate [over] who can benefit from EU funds.”
However Poland’s finance minister, Tadeusz Koscinski, said that the potential move was “ridiculous”. He said: “There is a dire danger that [the commission] are going to be turning Polish opinion against them.
“When politics gets involved in economies, that never ends well. What do they think they’re going to achieve? That Poland is going to get down on their knees in front of them? Ridiculous.”
The government spokesperson for Hungary said: “The Hungarian government has not been informed either formally or informally that the Commission would conduct such an investigation.
“The planning of the use of 2021-27 cohesion funds is currently under way including continuous discussions with the Commission. We hope they will continue in a professional and constructive manner and the Hungarian plans will be accepted as soon as possible.”
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