EU's first-ever democracy report zeroes in on courts, media deficiencies

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FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The first-ever report by the European Union's executive on rule of law gaps across the bloc, seen by Reuters ahead of official release later on Wednesday, singled out challenges to media and the judiciary as key risks to upholding democratic standards.

The report said the coronavirus has served as a "stress test" of rule of law resilience across the bloc and that some emergency measures adopted by national governments to tackle the pandemic went too far.

"When emergency powers lower institutional checks on the decision makers, the scrutiny of public decisions by media and civil society becomes all the more important," it said. "However, in certain Member States, media and civil society have been facing new obstacles."

The second major area of concern was undermining the independence of the judiciary, with the report by the European Commission singling out for criticism Poland, Hungary, as well as Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Slovakia. It also noted related debates in Germany and Austria.

"Poland's justice reforms since 2015 have been a major source of controversy," the report said, adding that Hungary was also among member states where "the direction of change has given rise to serious concern about the impact of reforms on judicial independence."

The Commission also noted corruption woes in Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Malta.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska)