MEPs want the European Commission to prove that it is up to the task of defending the EU budget against member states violating the rule of law. European affairs
MEPs will debate the application of the rules adopted in 2020 linking the disbursement of EU funds to member states respecting the rule of law and EU values at a plenary session in June.
Defending the rule of law: an emergency
At a meeting of Parliament’s Budget and Budgetary Control Committees on May 26, MEPs discussed the way forward with Gert Jan Koopman, Director General of the Commission’s Budget Department.
Koopman underlined the sensitive nature of the Commission’s potential assessments of the rule of law in EU countries: “Decisions taken will be subject to full judicial review by the [European] Court of Justice, ”he said. “We have to get it right from the start. We simply cannot afford to make mistakes and bring cases that are overturned by the court. It will be a disaster. “
The Commission is preparing guidelines explaining how it will implement the law. Koopman said the Commission will consult Parliament on the guidelines in the first half of June.
MEPs said the regulations are already clear enough. “If we wanted to have a very short set of guidelines, we could just write in one sentence: ‘Take a look at the regulations’,” said Petri Sarvamaa (EPP, Finland).
However, Parliament will express an opinion on the guidelines in a report due to be voted on in July. “All Member States should be able to see that the Commission is conducting its investigations in a truly objective manner,” said Sarvamaa.
“When we talk about violations of the rule of law, this is a very serious subject. We are aware of the fact that we must be very scrupulous in these evaluations. But this rigor and thoroughness cannot forever postpone the application of the regulation ”, declared Common Eider Gardiazabal (S&D, Spain).
Other MEPs said there was a rule of law crisis in the EU and called on the Commission to act decisively to prevent further deterioration. Terry reintke (Greens / ALE, Germany) said: “We have absolute confidence in the ability of the Commission to monitor, find and assess cases. You have some of the smartest lawyers in Europe, you have the best officials to protect the EU budget and the rule of law.
“But the impression is, and I speak on behalf of millions of EU citizens, that you lack a certain sense of urgency. You feel like you’re sitting in this burning house and you’re like, “Before we call the fire department, we’re actually going to come up with some guidelines on how they can put out this fire.”
The EU budget and the rule of law
the legislation adopted at the end of 2020 done access to EU funds conditional on respect for the rule of law. If the Commission finds that a country is in breach and the EU’s financial interests are at risk, it can propose that payments from the EU budget to that Member State be either reduced or frozen.
The Council must take the decision by qualified majority. The rules also aim to protect the interests of end beneficiaries – farmers, students, small businesses or NGOs – who should not be punished for the actions of governments.
Parliament is keen to see the system implemented given the concerns of recent years about the rule of law and democracy in some Member States.
Hungary and Poland have taken cases to the European Court of Justice to seek annulment of the regulation. In their meeting on December 10-11, 2020, EU leaders agreed that the Commission should prepare guidelines for the implementation of the rules which should be finalized after the judgment of the Court of Justice.
However, Parliament insisted that the rules are in place and that the Commission has a legal obligation defend the interests and values of the EU.