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ADDED ON: 08/08/2021

Along With COVID-19, EU Faces a More Fundamental Battle

8/8/21 | Voice of America

Hungary’s growing list of European Union worries includes controversial LGBT legislation and potentially hacking the phones of journalists, rights activists and political opponents. Poland has rebuffed a ruling by the bloc’s highest court, claiming its own constitution has precedence over the EU laws it vowed to follow when it joined the club in 2004, although it now appears to have backed down. Farther north and politically opposite, Denmark’s leftist government is also feeling legal heat over its recent decision to return hundreds of Syrian immigrants to Damascus, a move critics say violates basic human rights and could set a dangerous precedent for other deportations. Along with a year of battling COVID-19 and its economic fallout, the EU is also grappling with a more existential threat, as its founding principles of democracy, rule of law and human rights face multiple challenges from within, in ways, some observers say, the 27-member bloc is unprepared to meet. Referring to Hungary and Poland, among others, French President Emmanuel Macron recently warned of a creeping “anti-liberal conservatism” undermining EU values “and what has built the core of our Western liberal democracy for centuries.” “The EU has been all about democracy from the start,” said Sebastien Maillard, director of the Paris-based Jacques Delors Institute think tank. “The fact member states are challenging this is a major threat, because the EU is a legal construction. It has no army. Its only power is a legal power,” he said. As questions mount about the bloc’s ability to save itself — “The EU Watches as Hungary Kills Democracy,” The Atlantic magazine wrote last year, echoing other analyses — it is now sharpening its defenses. European leaders are speaking out against dissident members, some observers say, in ways they rarely did before. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, is mulling new financial penalties against key offenders. Yet for many, these steps are insufficient. “For me, Hungary has no place in the EU anymore,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in June, while Luxembourg’s Foreign and European Affairs Minister Jean Asselborn suggested a referendum over its EU membership. A less dramatic rebuttal, this time targeting Poland, may come later this month. The commission has given Warsaw until Aug. 16 to comply with a European Court of Justice ruling against its system for disciplining judges it claims undermines judicial independence, or face fines — a dollars-and-cents reprisal it may increasingly use against other rule-of-law violators, reports suggest.

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