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Pressure mounts to use new conditionality mechanism to stop funds to Poland

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Thousands of Poles took to the streets yesterday (10 October) protesting against the latest decision of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, which has questioned the supremacy of EU law, effectively placing Poland outside the EU’s legal order. Donald Tusk and other opposition politicians, authors and elderly war veterans spoke in defence of the rule of law, the Polish constitution and EU membership.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian issued a joint statement (8 October) on the decision by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal: “We call to mind the fact that EU membership goes hand in hand with the full and unrestricted allegiance to common values and rules. Each and every member state must respect and comply with these values and rules. It goes without saying that this also applies to Poland, which occupies a very central position within the EU.

“This is not just a moral but also a legal imperative. In this context, we reiterate our support for the European Commission so that it, as the guardian of the Treaties, can guarantee compliance with European law.”

Today (11 October) in Warsaw, Iratxe García Pérez MEP (S&D, ES), the leader of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, met with judges who are fighting to save the rule of law in Poland, and with attorney Michal Wawrykiewicz, co-founder of the Free Courts Civic Initiative.

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After the meeting, Iratxe García MEP said: “The Commission must urgently trigger the new conditionality mechanism and open infringement proceedings against Poland for breaching the treaty. I frankly cannot imagine how in the current circumstances the Commission could approve the Polish recovery plan.

“Poland is much more than PiS, much more than their anti-EU government. We must not forget this and we will fight on the side of Polish democrats.”

Jeroen Lenaers MEP, EPP Group Spokesman for Justice and Home Affair, said: "Enough is enough. The Polish Government has lost its credibility. This is an attack on the EU as a whole. By declaring that the EU Treaties are not compatible with Polish law, the illegitimate Constitutional Tribunal in Poland has put the country on the path to Polexit. 

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“EU Member States must not stand by idly when the rule of law continues to be dismantled by the Polish Government. Neither can the European Commission, our money can’t finance the governments which mock and negate our jointly-agreed rules. The European Commission should immediately use all available tools in order not to sponsor the autocrats in Warsaw.”

Today in Luxembourg (11 October), a hearing on the Hungarian and Polish government challenge to the conditionality regulation started in the EU Court of Justice. The Commission, Parliament and 10 member states (Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark) have intervened in support of the regulation. Given the gravity of the case, the full court is present. 

The Irish representative said: “Without independent investigation and prosecution services, and without independent judicial review, sound financial management of the EU budget simply cannot be guaranteed.” He added that it did not go against equal treatment between member states, but was there to ensure that this principle materialises in practice.”

The Dutch representative said that it is no longer self-evident that the Court of Justice’s rulings related to the rule of law are complied with, which now means the mechanism is more relevant.

The argument underlying most contributions is that it is impossible to have sound financial management of EU funds, if critical elements of the rule of law are missing to ensure that monies are used correctly. 

Background

The Polish Constitutional Tribunal has itself been subject to recommendations by the European Commission following the unlawful appointment of its current president and three other judges (2016), but no infringement procedure has yet been started. 

The European Network of Councils for the Judiciary is likely to take the unprecedented decision to expel the Polish Judicial National Council (Krajowa Rada Sadownictwa, KRS) because it is no longer considered to be an association that is independent of government. The ENCJ is holding an extraordinary general assembly in Vilnius at the end of the month (28-29 October) to vote on KRS expulsion.  The ENCJ says that it has seen no improvements since KRS’s suspension in 2018.

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Croatia

Commission approves 2022-2027 regional aid map for Croatia

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The European Commission has approved under EU state aid rules Croatia's map for granting regional aid from 1 January 2022 to 31 December 2027 within the framework of the revised Regional aid Guidelines (‘RAG'). The revised RAG, adopted by the Commission on 19 April 2021 and entering into force on 1 January 2022, enable member states to support the least favoured European regions in catching up and to reduce disparities in terms of economic well-being, income and unemployment – cohesion objectives that are at the heart of the Union. They also provide increased possibilities for member states to support regions facing transition or structural challenges such as depopulation, to contribute fully to the green and digital transitions.

At the same time, the revised RAG maintain strong safeguards to prevent member states from using public money to trigger the relocation of jobs from one EU member state to another, which is essential for fair competition in the Single Market. Croatia's regional map defines the Croatian regions eligible for regional investment aid. The map also establishes the maximum aid intensities in the eligible regions. The aid intensity is the maximum amount of State aid that can be granted per beneficiary, expressed as a percentage of eligible investment costs. Under the revised RAG, regions covering the entire population of Croatia will be eligible for regional investment aid. A press release is available online.

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Maritime

Commission welcomes landmark agreement on the conservation of North Atlantic Shortfin Mako shark

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The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) reached yesterday afternoon a landmark agreement on a Recommendation on the conservation of North Atlantic stock of shortfin mako shark (pictured). Welcoming the agreement, Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “Today's agreement is an important step forward on the road to recovery of this iconic species. Thanks also to the EU's leadership in the negotiations, we have managed to establish an effective rebuilding program for North Atlantic shortfin mako shark, including immediate action to reduce mortality and end overfishing.”

The agreement reached by all parties around the ICCAT table this year is crucial as it kick-starts a rebuilding programme for North Atlantic shortfin mako shark in 2022, after two years of unsuccessful negotiations. Once in force, the robust measure agreed will lead to ending the overfishing of this vulnerable stock and will chart a path for its recovery. One of the key aims of the Recommendation is to drive down mortality rates significantly. The Recommendation includes complementary measures, such as best handling practices and tasks the scientific body of ICCAT to explore a range of mitigation measures, from spatial and temporal closures to gear modification, to assist this ambitious rebuilding program. More information is in the news item.

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European Commission

Gender gap at education level is shrinking, but women are still under-represented in research and innovation

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The number of female students and graduates at bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels has grown steadily over the last years. However, women are still under-represented in research and innovation careers. These are some of the key findings of the European Commission's She Figures 2021 report, which since 2003 monitors the level of progress towards gender equality in research and innovation in the European Union and beyond.

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel welcomed this year's report and said: “The latest She Figures report highlights that Europe's economy, labs and academia already depend on women. However, it also shows that we still need to do more to promote gender equality, in particular to inspire girls for a career in STEM. There is no doubt, Europe needs women's creativity and entrepreneurial potential to shape a more sustainable, green and digital future.”

The She Figures 2021 publication highlights that, on average, at bachelor's and master's levels, women outnumber men as students (54%) and graduates (59%), and there is almost gender balance at doctoral level (48%). However, disparities between study fields persist. For example, women still represent less than a quarter of doctoral graduates in the ICT field (22%), while they represent 60% or more in the fields of health & welfare and education (60% and 67% respectively). Furthermore, women represent only around one third of researchers (33%).

At the highest level of academia, women remain under-represented, holding about one-quarter of full professorship positions (26%). Women are also less likely to be employed as scientists and engineers (41%) and are under-represented among self-employed professionals in science and engineering and ICT occupations (25%). More information is available in this press release.

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