Hungary and Poland to set up rule-of-law institute to counter EU attacks

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary and Poland will set up a joint institute to assess the state of rule of law across European Union member states so that they are "not taken for fools" over allegations of rule of law breaches, Hungary's foreign minister said on Monday.

After meeting Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau in Budapest, Peter Szijjarto said an EU report on the rule of law, which will soon be discussed in Brussels, was expected to be a political statement, rather than any well-founded assessment.

"The aim of this institute of comparative law would be that we should not be taken for fools," Szijjarto said, adding that he had "had enough of some western European politicians using us as a punchbag".

The institute would examine how the rule of law was upheld across the EU, to avoid "double standards" being applied to Hungary and Poland, he said.

The Law and Justice party (PiS) government in Poland - as well as its nationalist ally, the Hungarian government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban - have long been at loggerheads with the EU over accusations that they undercut democratic standards.

While both post-communist states benefit from generous EU handouts, their rulers have come under pressure for putting courts and judges, media and academics, non-government organisations and rights groups under direct government control.

In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Orban denied undermining democracy.

An EU summit in July agreed that the bloc's next joint budget for 2021-27, worth a trillion euros, and access to a linked economic recovery fund worth a further 750 billion euros to help repair damage done by the coronavirus pandemic, should both include conditions that member states adhere to the rule of law.

However, the exact details have not yet been set down, with the European Parliament pushing for tougher conditions than those agreed at the summit, and Warsaw and Budapest threatening to veto anything that would threaten their benefits.

Rau said the new institute would promote debate and transparency within the EU.

"A legal debate cannot be replaced by a political debate," he said.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Kevin Liffey)