It’s a black day for constitutional democracy in Europe.
Hungary’s Klub Radio is being forced off the air. Poland may arrest Igor Tuleya, a judge, for daring to uphold European law. And Warsaw is copying Orbán’s advertising tax, to put pressure on independent media.
Meanwhile, the European Commission, guardian of the Treaties, is defending the rule of law with all the speed and efficiency it otherwise reserves for the procurement of Covid vaccines.
Why the go-slow? There are some who attribute it to cowardice, like Daniel Kelemen, who’s described Ursula Von Der Leyen as “weak” and “distressingly detached from reality.” But there’s a deeper problem with the Commission’s culture that runs across both areas.
Vaccine contracts were delayed, while EU officials argued with pharmaceutical companies about price and liability. Infringement proceedings are delays, and interim measures are not sought, apparently, because it is necessary to get things right, as Commissioner Jourova explained in her lecture at Leuven University’s Reconnect Programme.
We get that. We get that losing cases on the rule of law, because they’re not properly prepared would be a problem, in the way that a vaccine that didn’t work would be a problem. But just like there’s no shortage of vaccines, there’s no shortage of cases to take against the governments in Warsaw and Budapest. The objective doesn’t have to be to win every one, but to win enough to stop severe cases of electoral authoritarianism endangering the EU’s legal framework.
Because in this fight, time is of the essence. The longer the Commission delays, in order to get everything absolutely right, the longer anti-democratic measures, like taxes on independent media or disciplinary intimidation of judges, are able to do their destructive work.
The problem with these power grabs is not their mere existence, but that hybrid regimes use them to punish their opponents and hide corruption. The longer they are allowed to survive, the more damage they do.
Klub Rádio is being forced off the air and Poland is copying Hungary’s advertising tax because the commission hasn’t brought its state aid case against Hungary. Igor Tuleya is being hounded because the commission hasn’t applied for fines to be levied.
This isn’t like an ordinary economic policy area where a fine compensates the victim even if it it takes some time to finally reach them. In this case, as for the CEU, justice delayed is justice denied.
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