MEPs on potential collision course with European Commission and Member States over 'rule of law' clause

European Parliament resolution insists controversial clause should be introduced ‘with immediate effect’.
PA

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

18 Dec 2020

According to a deal struck at last week’s EU summit, the introduction of the rule of law mechanism will be delayed pending approval by the European Court of Justice.

The rule of law condition had initially angered Hungary and Poland which are both at loggerheads with the EU over alleged breaches of judicial and other rights in their countries.

But the European Parliament, in a resolution adopted on Wednesday, insists that the clause should be introduced “with immediate effect”.

The resolution also recommends “legal remedies” should the Commission “fail to fulfil its duty to apply EU law without delay”.

MEPs said the mechanism is of “historic importance” and must fully apply from 1 January 2021.

In a debate on the €1.85 trillion 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and recovery plan, MEPs challenged the summit decision to suspend the rule of law mechanism pending ECJ approval.

“[European Commissiin President  Ursula] Von der Leyen far too often shies away from initiating infringement proceedings against EU countries. The Commission president's understanding of her office is highly questionable. A Commission that inadequately enforces European law, damages trust in Europe in the long term” Sven Giegold, MEP

The resolution was adopted in a vote on Wednesday night with 496 votes in favour and 134 against. The text says the Commission is “completely independent” and Council conclusions “cannot be made binding on the Commission in applying legal acts”.

German MEP Sven Giegold, financial and economic policy spokesperson for the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, was among several members who spoke out against postponing application of the rule of law mechanism.

He said, “The rule of law mechanism has been adopted and must therefore be implemented immediately by the Commission”.

In the debate with MEPs on the summit conclusions, Commission president Ursula von der Leyen defended the decision to delay introducing the mechanism.

But Giegold said, “As is so often the case, von der Leyen's words and deeds do not match. Rhetorically, she makes herself the defender of the rule of law, but there is little sign of this in her actions”.

“Von der Leyen far too often shies away from initiating infringement proceedings against EU countries. The Commission president's understanding of her office is highly questionable. A Commission that inadequately enforces European law, damages trust in Europe in the long term”.

His colleague and group leader, Ska Keller, agreed, saying, “The Commission, as guardian of the treaties, must reaffirm that it intends to apply the law to the letter, as agreed by the co-legislators, and protect the rule of law. As far as the Parliament is concerned, the rule of law mechanism must be applied from when it enters into force on 1 January and without delay.”

“Rule of law is about objective and legal arguments, which stand because they are sound, not because a majority supports that position. In a country ruled by law, one will be right because the truth is on their side, despite the fact that the majority have a different opinion” Cristian Terheș MEP

RENEW Europe group deputy Moritz Korner, his group’s spokesperson for the rule of law conditionality mechanism, said "It is a great success for Parliament that there is finally a rule of law mechanism”.

The German added, “I also want to make it very clear that what counts is the legal text that we have negotiated and not any conclusions of the summit".

Korner’s Hungarian colleague Katalin Cseh added, “Viktor Orbán burned up bridges and angered millions of Europeans, but all he managed to get was a non-binding piece of paper that carries no legal weight”.

However, Romanian ECR group MEP Cristian Terheș angrily criticised the resolution, saying, “Rule of law is about objective and legal arguments, which stand because they are sound, not because a majority supports that position. In a country ruled by law, one will be right because the truth is on their side, despite the fact that the majority have a different opinion.”

He added, “The way the rule of law conditionality was ‘debated’ in Parliament, as well as taking note of the public statements from different European officials, this is not anymore a conditionality based on rule of law, but on the majority rule principle, which is the opposite of rule law.”

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