No EU money for Member States without the rule of law
Thanks to the EPP Group in the European Parliament, EU budgetary payments to Member States are legally bound to the rule of law since January 2021. Our position was always clear: Member States must respect democracy and the rule of law in order to benefit from EU money. The EU is not a cash machine. We are a community of values. This is what we fought for and achieved when the new rule of law conditionality was adopted in December 2020.
Two countries who may lose EU money due to breaches of the rule of law, Poland and Hungary, claim that the new mechanism lacks an appropriate legal basis and are challenging it at the European Court of Justice. The European Commission is awaiting the verdict of this case, due in early 2022, before it applies the mechanism. I welcome that the European Court of Justice is checking the validity of this new law. On 2 December 2021, the Advocate General published his legal opinion that the actions by Hungary and Poland should be dismissed, which confirms my views. The EPP has always said that the mechanism must be applied in an equal, fair and unbiased manner. The assessment, if something is in line with the rule of law or not, must not be made by politicians or journalists, but by independent judges.
The European Parliament filed a lawsuit against the European Commission for failing to take action to fine EU countries over rule of law breaches using the new mechanism in October 2021. The EPP Group does not believe this was the right decision. The European Parliament is a political institution and should act accordingly. Parliament and Commission are on the same side in this battle and should take a unified approach.
Even though some Member States blocked and delayed a deal on the budget conditionality, an agreement was eventually reached on 5 November 2020 between the European Parliament and the Council. Thanks to the EPP Group-led negotiation team and despite strong opposition from the Council, the new legislation will specifically refer on the independence of judges.
Just ahead of the European Council on 10-11 December 2020, Hungary and Poland who had threatened to veto the MFF and Recovery Fund, withdrew their resistance, paving the way for adoption.
This conditionality does not concern all rule of law issues, but only those which have an impact on the financial interests of the EU. For instance, judges must be independent in their work, otherwise, they could cover up corruption over EU funds. Nevertheless, pressuring free media, closing universities or not applying EU law do not directly lead to cutting EU funds, if no financial interests of the EU are at stake.
Why did the EPP Group not support the lawsuit against the Commission for inaction although it supported the parliamentary Resolution demanding it? Because we follow the advice of the legal service of the European Parliament, which has cast doubt over whether this legal action will be successful. In addition, such fabricated conflict between the EU Institutions only helps fuel those who abuse the rule of law as it further reduces the authority of the EU Institutions as such.