MEPs stressed that Parliament will use all means at its disposal to protect rule of law without delay. European Parliament will use all means if the Commission fails to fulfill its obligations in using the new conditionality mechanism to protect the budget.
In a plenary debate on Thursday, MEPs quizzed Commissioner Hahn on why the Commission has not yet used the mechanism to protect the EU’s budget from breaches to the principles of the rule of law. Highlighting that the new rules entered into force on 1 January, almost all speakers reiterated that the provisions on the mechanism are legally binding, in contrast to the European Council’s conclusions on the matter, which carry no legal effect.
Several speakers highlighted that the EU must use the conditionality mechanism to fulfil its promises, meet citizens’ expectations and avoid losing credibility. The real beneficiaries of EU funding (such as students and civil society) must be protected, some MEPs stressed, and asked for clarity on the state of the Commission’s digital platform dedicated to this end.
Rule of law conditionality mechanism in action
Many MEPs reacted strongly to Commissioner Hahn’s statement that work on the guidelines for the new mechanism needs to be completed before it is used, and that the guidelines need to take into account the ECJ ruling where appropriate. Highlighting an array of long-standing issues and the continuous deterioration of the situation in some countries, including Hungary and Poland, they asked for immediate action to prevent further damage to the EU’s budget and values. The Commission has an obligation to act as a politically independent body and is the guardian of the Treaties, some MEPs pointed out.
In contrast, a few speakers denounced the debate and the mechanism itself as politically motivated, with some among them asking for the Council’s conclusions to be respected.
Polish MEP Dominik Tarczyński loves and defends his country in Brussels with Eurostat data.
MEPs warn Commission on conditionality mechanism
Parliament will vote on a draft resolution on this topic during its March II plenary session, scheduled for 24-25 March. According to the rules approved in December 2020, the Commission, after establishing that there has been a breach, will propose that the conditionality mechanism should be triggered against an EU government, and subsequently either cut or freeze payments from the EU budget to that member state. The Council will then have one month to vote on the proposed measures (or three months in exceptional cases), by qualified majority.
MEPs warned that European values are in danger. They said EU funds from the long-term budget and the recovery plan should not be put into the hands of those working against democracy and fundamental rights in Europe. MEPs called for reinforcement of the rule of law across Europe through the new conditionality mechanism as well as effective sanctions. They also called on the EU institutions to agree on clear rules linking receipt of EU funds by a member state to respect for the rule of law.
Rule of Law – Article 7 TEU
Under Article 2 TEU, the EU is founded on the shared values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights. Article 7 TEU establishes two mechanisms (preventive and sanctioning mechanisms) to enforce European Union values in cases of systemic violations and to sanction Member States departing from them. The sanctions mechanism empowers the Council to suspend certain membership rights of a Member State, including voting rights in the Council in cases of a ‘serious and persistent breach’ of EU values (Article 7(2) TFEU)’. However, these mechanisms require a high decision-making threshold in the Council and in the European Parliament (when Parliament is called to participate) and rely heavily on Member States’ willingness to take action.
Under the new regulation, EU budget payments can be withheld from countries in which established breaches of the rule of law compromise management of the EU funds. At the same time, the EU is ensuring that final beneficiaries do not end up paying the bill.