© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: EU flags flutter in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
By Jan Strupczewski
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission has started a long-awaited probe into whether Poland and Hungary should continue to receive billions of euros from the EU budget because of problems with corruption and the rule of law.
Commission documents on Saturday showed letters were sent to Warsaw and Budapest on Friday asking governments for clarifications under a recent EU law allowing the suspension of EU cash if it may be misspent.
The law was adopted last December but the Commission, the guardian of EU laws, has been slow to apply it, despite pressure from the European Parliament which even sued the Commission last month for inaction.
Under a different legal process, the Commission has already suspended billions in grants to Poland and Hungary from the EU’s recovery fund, citing the same concerns over the rule of law and corruption.
The letters sent on Friday are just the first step in a lengthy process, but may put at risk tens of billions of euros in EU cash to the countries over the next seven years.
Both countries have two months to answer the letters.
If the Commission were to conclude EU money was not safe in Poland and Hungary, it would still need a ruling from the EU’s top court before it could take action.
Both countries challenged the law in March and while a non-binding view from the EU court’s advocate general is expected in early December, a full ruling might not come until the first quarter of 2022.
Poland and Hungary have for years been under formal EU investigation for undermining the independence of the courts, non-governmental organisations and the media.
Warsaw’s relations with the EU have worsened after Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, dominated by the ruling nationalist and euro-sceptic party, ruled in October that elements of EU law were incompatible with the Polish constitution.
The Polish tribunal also said in July that Poland did not need to observe interim measures imposed by the EU’s top court in matters of Polish judiciary.
“These two judgements of the Constitutional Tribunal could give rise to breaches of the principles of the rule of law … insofar as the correct application of Union law in Poland is concerned, and thereby put at risk the application of Union primary law and secondary legislation relevant to the protection of the financial interests of the European Union,” the Commission letter to Poland, seen by Reuters, said.
The letter also lists concerns about the impartiality of Poland’s prosecutors, because the service is run by an active politician from the ruling party, who is justice minister and prosecutor general at the same time.
Another concern listed is the independence of judges appointed by a council dominated by nominees of the ruling party as well as a new disciplinary system for judges which breaks EU treaties, according to ruling by the EU top court.
Such issues “could affect the effectiveness and impartiality of the judicial proceedings on cases related to the irregularities in the management of the Union funds,” the letter to Poland said.
The letter to Hungary, while mentioning concerns over the independence of judges, focused mainly on irregularities in spending EU money through public procurement.
The concerns follow reports from the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF showing nearly half of all public tenders in Hungary result in a single-bid procedure.
During a decade in power, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been accused of using billions of euros of state and EU funds to prop up a loyal business elite which includes family members and close friends.
In a report on the rule of law in Hungary in July, the Commission cited persistent shortcomings in Hungarian political party financing and risks of clientelism and nepotism in high-level public administration.
“The identified deficiencies and weaknesses may… present a serious risk that the sound financial management of the Union budget or the protection of the Union financial interests will continue to be affected in the future,” the letter to Hungary said.
South Korean exports dropped 14% in November, the highest in 2.5 years
South Korea’s exports fell 14 percent year-on-year to $51.91 billion in November, preliminary data from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy showed. The November drop was the biggest in 2.5 years since May 2020 and was caused both by the deteriorating global economy, which even a Google price chart showed, and a truckers’ strike in the country.
South Korea exports 2022 – reasons for the drop
Exports fell for the second month in a row. Analysts on average expected an 11% decline, according to Trading Economics. Respondents to MarketWatch predicted a 10.5% decline.
Shipments of semiconductor products overseas, the country’s top export item, fell 29.8%; petrochemicals fell 26.5% and steel exports fell 10.6%. Meanwhile, exports of automobiles jumped 31% and petroleum products 26%.
Exports to China, South Korea’s largest trading partner, fell by 25.5%, and to Asian countries – by 13.9%. Below, supplies to the USA grew by 8% and to the European Union – by 0.1%.
In January-November exports rose by 7.8% on the same period last year and reached a record $629.1 billion.
South Korean imports rose 2.7% to $59.2 billion in November, marking the 23rd consecutive month of gains, but the current rate of growth is the lowest since November 2020. Experts had predicted an increase of only 0.2%.
South Korea’s trade deficit last month was $7.01 billion, compared with a surplus of $2,973 billion a year earlier.
The negative balance was recorded for the eighth month in a row. As a result, by the end of 2022, the country may record a foreign trade deficit for the first time since the financial crisis in 2008.
Earlier we reported that the UN estimates the cost of humanitarian aid in 2023 at a record $51 billion.
The UN estimates humanitarian aid costs in 2023 at a record $51 billion because of an impending humanitarian crisis
Joint humanitarian operations will require a record $51.5 billion in 2023 to address urgent problems.
The UN Office for the OCHA estimates that 339 million people will need urgent aid in 2023. At the same time, OCHA called on donor countries to provide funds for assistance in 2023 to the 230 million people most in need, living in 68 countries.
Griffiths explained that aid is needed not only for people experiencing conflicts and disease outbreaks. but also for those suffering the effects of climate change, such as people in peninsular Somalia facing drought and those in Pakistan experiencing severe flooding. For the first time, the growing humanitarian crisis has brought the number of displaced people worldwide to the 100 million mark. Also worsening an already bad situation is the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, which affects the poor. Note that the general economic crisis has begun to negatively affect even the Netflix price chart.
Earlier we reported that house prices in the UK fell by 1.4% in November.
Average house prices in the UK fell 1.4% in November
Average house prices in the UK fell 1.4% in the previous month in November to 263,788 thousand pounds (about $319,000), according to the British mortgage company Nationwide Building Society.
The decline was recorded at the end of the second consecutive month and was the most significant in almost 2.5 years – since June 2020. Analysts on average had forecast a decline of only 0.3%, according to Trading Economics.
Are house prices in the UK going to fall even more?
Residential real estate prices in November compared to the same month last year increased by 4.4%. At the same time, experts expected a larger increase of 5.8%. The growth rate slowed down significantly compared with 7.2% in October. Because of the difficult economic situation, British investors are investing in other instruments. The Microsoft price chart, for example, is showing potential for growth, so many are interested in the U.S. stock market.
“The market looks set to remain under pressure in the coming quarters. Inflation will remain high for some time, and interest rates are likely to continue to rise,” believes Nationwide Senior Economist Robert Gardner. – The outlook is unclear, and much will depend on how the overall economy behaves, but a relatively soft landing is still possible.”
Earlier we reported that Sanctions Circumvention was included in the EU’s list of criminal offenses.
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