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EU lists rule of law concerns for Hungary, Poland, pivotal in releasing COVID funds

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The European Commission has listed serious concerns about the rule of law in Poland and Hungary in a report that could help decide whether they receive billions of euro in EU funds to help recover from the coronavirus pandemic, writes Jan Strupczewski.

The European Union's executive arm also gave Poland until Aug. 16 to comply with a ruling by the top EU court last week, ignored by Warsaw, that Poland's system for disciplining judges broke EU law and should be suspended. Read more.

If Poland does not comply, the commission would ask the EU court to impose financial sanctions on Warsaw, commission Vice President Vera Jourova told a news conference.

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The commission had already raised many of the concerns in a report last year but they may now have real consequences as Brussels has made access to its recovery fund of grants and loans worth a total 800 billion euros conditional on observing the rule of law.

The commission said Poland and Hungary were undermining media pluralism and court independence. They are the only two countries in the 27-member bloc under formal EU investigation for jeopardising the rule of law.

"The Commission may take into account the Rule of Law report ... when identifying and assessing breaches of the principles of the rule of law that affect the financial interests of the Union," the commission said in a statement.

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Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller said on Twitter the government would analyse documents from the commission regarding the need for compliance with EU court rulings.

Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga said on Facebook the commission was blackmailing Hungary because of a child protection law which won't allow "LGBTQ-activists and any sexual propaganda into Hungarian kindergartens and schools".

The EU executive has already delayed its approval on 7.2 billion euros for Hungary in an attempt to win rule of law concessions from Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government and has not yet given the go-ahead for 23 billion euros in grants and 34 billion in cheap loans for Poland.

Jourova said she could not predict when money for Poland could be approved and noted Warsaw had first to convince the commission that it had a credible system of control and audit for spending EU money.

The report said Hungary had not followed the commission's request to strengthen judicial independence and that its anti-corruption strategy was too limited in scope.

In a decade in power, Orban has partly used billions of euros of state and EU funds to build a loyal business elite which includes some family members and close friends.

The commission cited persistent shortcomings in Hungarian political party financing and risks of clientelism and nepotism in high-level public administration.

Significant amounts of state advertising go to media supporting the government, while independent outlets and journalists face obstruction and intimidation, it said.

The report also expressed concern over the influence of Poland's nationalist ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) over the justice system.

It listed what it said were illegally made appointments and changes by PiS to the constitutional tribunal and other bodies, and Warsaw's rejection of EU court rulings binding for every member state.

The commission noted that the prosecutor general, responsible for tracking down state corruption, was at the same time Poland's justice minister and an active PiS politician.

Since last year, the professional environment for journalists in Poland has deteriorated because of "intimidating judicial proceedings, growing failure to protect journalists and violent actions during protests, including from police forces", it said.

European Commission

New European Bauhaus: New actions and funding to link sustainability to style and inclusion

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The Commission has adopted a Communication setting out the concept of the New European Bauhaus. This includes a number of policy actions and funding possibilities. The project aims at accelerating the transformation of various economic sectors such as construction and textiles in order to provide access to all citizens to goods that are circular and less carbon intensive.

The New European Bauhaus brings a cultural and creative dimension to the European Green Deal, aiming to demonstrate how sustainable innovation offers tangible, positive experiences in our daily life.

For the funding, there will be about €85 million dedicated to New European Bauhaus projects from EU programmes in 2021 – 2022. Many other EU programmes will integrate the New European Bauhaus as an element of context or priority without a predefined dedicated budget.

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Funding will come from different EU programmes including the Horizon Europe programme for research and innovation (notably the Horizon Europe missions), the LIFE programme for the environment and climate action and the European Regional Development Fund. In addition, the Commission will invite the Member States to use the New European Bauhaus core values in their strategies for territorial and socio-economic development, and mobilise the relevant parts of their recovery and resilience plans, as well as the programmes under cohesion policy to build a better future for everyone.

The Commission will establish a New European Bauhaus Lab: a ‘think and do tank' to co-create, prototype and test new tools, solutions and policy recommendations. The Lab will continue the movement's collaborative spirit that brings together different walks of life and reaches out to society, industry and politics to connect people and find new ways of creating together.

The Communication is inspired by the input received during the co-design phase that ran from January to July where the Commission received over 2000 contributions from all over Europe and beyond.

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Fostering a growing movement

In January 2021, the New European Bauhaus co-design phase was launched to identify and think about aesthetical, sustainable and inclusive solutions for our living spaces and help deliver on the European Green Deal. The first part of the development called on everyone to join a conversation to rethink the way we live together. These exchanges fed into the New European Bauhaus communication adopted today.

Co-creation will remain essential, and it will evolve in the light of the first concrete results, through assessments and reviews. Therefore, the Commission will further deepen the work with the growing New European Bauhaus Community of committed individuals, organisations and authorities. 

The movement also takes inspiration from existing beautiful, sustainable and inclusive places and projects in Europe. The first New European Bauhaus Prizes celebrate these achievements, awarding prizes across ten categories, from 'products and lifestyle', to ‘reinvented places to meet and share'. The ‘New European Bauhaus Rising Stars' strand, open exclusively to under-30s, supports and encourages the younger generation to continue developing new ideas and exciting concepts. Winners will receive their prizes at a prize ceremony on 16 September.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “The New European Bauhaus combines the big vision of the European Green Deal with tangible change on the ground. Change that improves our daily life and that people can touch and feel - in buildings, in public spaces, but also in fashion or furniture. The New European Bauhaus aims at creating a new lifestyle that matches sustainability with good design, that needs less carbon and that is inclusive and affordable for all.”

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said: “By bridging science and innovation with art and culture, and taking a holistic approach, the New European Bauhaus will create solutions that are not only sustainable and innovative, but also accessible, affordable, and life-enhancing for us all.”

Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira, said: “Through its transdisciplinary and participatory approach, the New European Bauhaus reinforces the role of local and regional communities, industries, innovators and creative minds that work together to improve our quality of life. Cohesion policy will transform new ideas into action at the local level.”

More information

Communication on the New European Bauhaus

Annex 1 – Report on the co-design phase

Annex 2 – Mobilizing EU programmes

Annex 3 – The New European Bauhaus policy ecosystem

Q&A

New European Bauhaus website

High Level Round Table

State of the Union Address by President von der Leyen

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European Commission

State of the EU: Fight against COVID-19, recovery, climate and external policy

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In the annual State of the European Union debate, MEPs quizzed Commission President von der Leyen about the EU’s most immediate challenges, Plenary session  AFCO.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen started her second State of the European Union address highlighting that, in the biggest global health crisis for a century, the deepest global economic crisis for decades and the gravest planetary crisis of all time, “we chose to go it together. As one Europe. And we can be proud of it”. She stressed that Europe is among the world leaders in vaccination rates, while sharing half of its vaccine production with the rest of the world. Now the priority is to speed up global vaccination, continue efforts in Europe and prepare well for future pandemics.

Looking ahead, she noted that “digital is the make-or-break issue” and announced a new European Chips Act, bringing together Europe’s world-class research, design and testing capacities and coordinating EU and national investments on semi-conductors. On climate change, von der Leyen made clear that “since it is man-made, we can do something about it”. She highlighted that, with the Green Deal, the EU was the first major economy to present comprehensive legislation in this area and promised to support developing countries by doubling funding for biodiversity and pledging an additional €4 billion for climate finance until 2027 to support their green transition.

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Speaking about foreign and security policy, she called for a European Cyber Defence Policy and a new European Cyber Resilience Act and announced a summit on European defence to be held under the French Presidency.

Manfred WEBER (EPP,DE) pointed to the social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and said that Europe urgently needs to create new jobs, also in the health sector where the EU is leading with COVID-19 vaccines. He pleaded for an EU-US trade emergency programme for the transport and mobility and digital sectors and a plan to cut bureaucracy. European defence should be strengthened with a rapid reaction force, and Europol turned into a European FBI, he concluded.

Iratxe GARCÍA (S&D, ES) assessed the EU’s fight against the pandemic and its consequences positively: “70% of the population is vaccinated, freedom of movement is again a reality and NextGenerationEU funds are already being distributed”. The transition towards a green economy is also on track, she added, but “we have not done enough to ensure the wellbeing of citizens”, noting that the crisis has exacerbated inequalities and hit the most vulnerable harder.

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Dacian CIOLOŞ (Renew, RO) complained that too often, the Commission has been engaging in diplomacy with the Council instead of engaging in policy-making with the Parliament. Emphasising that European values are the foundations of our Union, he urged the Commission to start using the conditionality mechanism set up to protect the EU budget from breaches to the rule of law-in force for almost a year but never applied-, to stop financing illiberal movements in many parts of Europe where judicial independence is being eroded, journalists murdered and minorities discriminated against.

Philippe LAMBERTS (Greens/EFA, BE) demanded more climate ambition: “faster, higher, stronger: it is high time to apply the Olympic goals to our efforts to save the planet”. He also asked for changes in the fiscal and social systems to ensure a dignified life for all. On external policy, Lamberts noted that only by sharing sovereignty could the EU become a “heavyweight” on the world scene, and made clear that "’Fortress Europe’ will never be a respected geopolitical player”. Finally, he regretted that EU countries’ main concern over Afghanistan is to avoid any Afghan putting their feet on European territory.

EU citizens do not need “flowery speeches”, they just “want to be left alone”, said Jörg MEUTHEN (ID, DE). He criticised the Commission’s plans of “massive expenses” - for the Green Deal, for the recovery fund, for “Fit for 55”, which citizens would have to pay for in the end. He warned of growing bureaucracy and deplored the transition towards green energy, pleading for more nuclear energy.

Raffaele FITTO (ECR, IT) warned that “the NextGenerationEU resources alone are not enough” and demanded a reform of the Stability Pact. He also called for a change in state aid rules and a more autonomous trade policy. “The environmental transition cannot be tackled without taking into account what is happening in the world and especially the impact on our production system”, he added. On rule of law and Poland, Fitto denounced “a political imposition by a majority that does not respect the competences of individual states”.

According to Martin SCHIRDEWAN (The Left, DE), Ms von der Leyen has praised herself but not delivered any answers to today’s problems. He demanded that patent protection for vaccines be removed and deplored that the 10 richest billionaires in Europe have further increased their fortunes during the pandemic while one in five children in the EU is growing up in or at risk of poverty.

Speakers

Ursula VON DER LEYEN, President of the European Commission

Manfred WEBER (EPP, DE)

Iratxe GARCÍA PÉREZ (S&D, ES)

Dacian CIOLOŞ (Renew , RO)

Philippe LAMBERTS (Greens/EFA, BE)

Jörg MEUTHEN (ID, DE)

Raffaele FITTO (ECR, IT)

Martin SCHIRDEWAN (The Left, DE)

More information 

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Digital economy

Commission proposes a Path to the Digital Decade to deliver the EU's digital transformation by 2030

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On 15 September, the Commission proposed a Path to the Digital Decade, a concrete plan to achieve the digital transformation of our society and economy by 2030. The proposed Path to the Digital Decade will translate the EUʼs digital ambitions for 2030 into a concrete delivery mechanism. It will set up a governance framework based on an annual cooperation mechanism with Member States to reach the 2030 Digital Decade targets at Union level in the areas of digital skills, digital infrastructures, digitalisation of businesses and public services. It also aims to identify and implement large-scale digital projects involving the Commission and the Member States. The pandemic highlighted the central role that digital technology plays in building a sustainable and prosperous future. In particular, the crisis exposed a divide between digitally apt businesses and those yet to adopt digital solutions, and highlighted the gap between well-connected urban, rural and remote areas. Digitalisation offers many new opportunities on the European marketplace, where more than 500,000 vacancies for cybersecurity and data experts remained unfilled in 2020. In line with European values, the Path to the Digital Decade should reinforce our digital leadership and promote human centred and sustainable digital policies empowering citizens and businesses. More information is available in this press release, Q&A and factsheet. President von der Leyen's State of the Union Address is also available online.

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