Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team
As the European Institutions wind down now to take their summer break there has been a flurry of activity from the European Commission which will bring added pressures to certain Member States. It is possible to sense the frustration of the European Commission with some countries in its most recent cases filed in the European Court of Justice (ECJ). In the latest “regular package of infringement decisions”, the European Commission pursues legal action against Member States for failing to comply with their obligations under EU law. These decisions, covering various sectors and EU policy areas, aim to ensure the proper application of EU law for the benefit of citizens and businesses.
Equality and the respect for dignity and human rights are core values of the EU. In one of the biggest contraventions of EU principles, both Hungary and Poland have taken a strong anti-LGBTQI stance. Hungary adopted a law which in particular prohibits or limits access to content that promotes or portrays the ‘divergence from self-identity corresponding to sex at birth, sex change or homosexuality’ for individuals under 18; and a disclaimer imposed on a children’s book with LGBTQI content. Poland, introduced ‘LGBT-ideology free zones’, adopted by several Polish regions and municipalities.
The actions of both Hungary and Poland caused fury in Brussels, and Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, was obliged to make a statement in the European Parliament in July defending European values : “Europe will never allow parts of our society to be stigmatised: be it because of whom they love, because of their age, their ethnicity, their political opinions, or their religious beliefs.” To prove its commitment in this respect, the Commission has been forced to launch infringement procedures against Hungary and Poland relating to the equality and the protection of fundamental rights.
Hungary has also been referred the ECJ for unlawfully restricting access to the asylum procedure. According to Hungarian law, before being able to apply for international protection in Hungary, non-EU nationals must first make a declaration of intent stating their wish to apply for asylum at a Hungarian Embassy outside the European Union and be issued with a special entry permit for that purpose. The Commission considers that this rule is an unlawful restriction to access to the asylum procedure that is contrary to the Asylum Procedures Directive, read in light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as it precludes persons who are on Hungary’s territory, including at the border, from applying for international protection there. The Commission also considers that addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, which is the stated objective of the Hungarian law, cannot justify such a rule.
The Commission has also referred Italy to the ECJ for its failure to comply with all information exchange requirements set in the EU rules on cross-border cooperation in combating terrorism and cross-border crime. These rules on cross-border cooperation are a key instrument in the fight against terrorism and crime and allow Member States to quickly exchange information on DNA, fingerprints and national vehicle registration data, enabling law enforcement authorities to identify suspects and make links between criminal cases throughout the Union.
Similarly, infringement procedures have also been opened on Cyprus, Czechia, Greece, Spain and Lithuania for failing to correctly transpose certain elements of the EU rules on combating terrorism. The Directive on combating terrorism is a key element of the EU’s Counter-Terrorism Agenda and includes provisions that criminalise and sanction terrorist-related offences.
Bulgaria has been referred to the ECJ for continuously failing to connect its national business register to the Business Registers Interconnection System (BRIS), and breaching company law regulation. As a result, none of the functions of BRIS are available concerning Bulgarian companies. More specifically, Bulgaria’s failure to connect to BRIS makes it complicated for EU citizens, companies and professionals to obtain relevant information on Bulgarian companies.
The Czech Republic has also been referred to the ECJ over its non-compliance with EU rules on professional qualifications. The Commission is specifically addressing certain provisions of national rules on professional qualifications, which directly affect professionals who obtained their professional qualifications in Czechia or would like their professional qualifications to be recognised in Czechia, and which hamper professionals’ cross-border mobility, reduce work opportunities and make it more difficult for potential recipients of their services to enjoy the benefits of the Single Market.
Greece’s failure to address high levels of nitrogen dioxide has seen it referred to the Court of Justice for poor air quality. Greece has continually and persistently exceeded the annual nitrogen dioxide limit in Athens. Full implementation of the air quality standards, as enshrined in EU legislation, is key to effectively protect human health and safeguard the natural environment, and is a vital component of the European Green Deal.
The Commission has also begun numerous infringement procedures and Reasoned Opinions to various of Member States in an attempt to avoid future court referrals. The Commission sent letters of formal notice to 24 Member States to comply with EU Posting of Workers Enforcement Directive by bringing their national provisions in line with the Enforcement Directive on Posting of Workers.
The Commission has many tools in its possession to enforce rule of law and democracy within its Member States. There can be no compromises on these founding EU principles – but it is disappointing to see so many referrals to the Court of Justice of the European Union by countries which are equal partners in the European Union.