MEPs step up pressure on Commission to take action over rule of law breaches

Members want the executive to immediately trigger its new conditionality clause which directly links payment of EU funds to respect for the rule of law.
Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

03 Jun 2021

Hungary and Poland are two Member States which have regularly found themselves at odds with the EU over perceived rule of law breaches in various areas, including the judiciary and attacks on press freedom.

But MEPs also now want similar action taken against the Czech government for its alleged failure to tackle a conflict of interest surrounding its prime minister.

If the clause is triggered it would result in various sanctions being levied, including suspension of voting rights and, possibly, EU funding being withheld.

The Renew Europe group has gone one step further and proposed launching legal action against the Commission itself for “failing” to activate the conditionality clause so far.

It has tabled a parliamentary resolution, to be voted by MEPs at their plenary in Strasbourg next week, seeking legal action.

Renew Europe says it is confident that a sufficient number of MEPs will support its demand.

A spokesman said, “Renew Europe is ready to build a majority in Parliament for a resolution pushing to take the Commission to court and we call on the other political groups to join forces with us.”

Renew Europe says it has “had enough of the constant delaying tactics and playing for time”, adding that the rule of law conditionality mechanism has been in force since 1 January and “must promptly be applied.”

“The situation in a number of Member States needs to be scrutinised, and actions taken, without delay,” the group said.

The vote next week comes just ahead of a general affairs council meeting on 22 June which is due to discuss the current situation in Hungary and Poland.

“The Commission is not the only ‘guardian of the Treaties’ and when there are serious threats to European values, Parliament can and must act. More than ever, the Council urgently needs to take up its responsibility to protect the rule of law and take action on Hungary” Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, Greens/EFA

Renew Europe leader Dacian Cioloș said, “We have fought tooth and nail to establish the rule of law conditionality mechanism, which creates a link between upholding the rule of law and receiving EU funding.”

“Parliament gave the Commission the deadline of 1 June to enforce the regulation that has been applicable as of 1 January. Now the deadline is not met, our group intends to push for the triggering of Article 265 in the Treaties in order to take legal action against the Commission for its failure to act.”

The Romanian deputy added, “The EU’s credibility is at stake. We have made a commitment to the citizens of Europe who now expect us to be consistent. It is urgent to act.”

His colleague, Katalin Cseh, co-rapporteur of the resolution, said, “Renew Europe will not back down until the mechanism is properly implemented. By delaying its application, the Commission plays into the hands of autocrats like Viktor Orbán who wish to use our historic Recovery Fund for his own financial gains, propping up oligarchs and family members before the 2022 elections.”

She added, “Waiting for the adoption of guidelines by June 1 was already a generous compromise from the side of Parliament, but even this extended deadline has passed. Hence, we have to hold the Commission accountable for non-action at the European Court of Justice. We have said it loud and clear, and we will say it again: the era of procrastination is over.”

MEPs from other groups are equally critical of the Commission, with French Greens member Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, Parliament rapporteur for the situation in Hungary, saying, “The Commission is not the only ‘guardian of the Treaties’ and when there are serious threats to European values, Parliament can and must act.”

“More than ever, the Council urgently needs to take up its responsibility to protect the rule of law and take action on Hungary.”

She went on, “The state of the rule of law in Hungary is worsening by the day. The Fidesz government’s conscious strategy to dismantle democracy and undermine fundamental rights affects all citizens and has started spreading to other EU Member States. Hungarian and European citizens deserve to know that their rights will be supported and protected by all EU institutions.”

Separately, the Commission has been urged to act against the Czech government after a recent audit found there had been conflict of interest involving its prime minister, Andrej Babiš.

“We have fought tooth and nail to establish the rule of law conditionality mechanism, which creates a link between upholding the rule of law and receiving EU funding … Now the deadline is not met, our group intends to push for the triggering of Article 265 in the Treaties in order to take legal action against the Commission for its failure to act”

Dacian Cioloș, Renew Europe leader

In a draft resolution adopted on Wednesday with 26 votes in favour and none against, the Budgetary Control Committee called on the Commission to address a conflict of interest alongside reports of Babiš’ influence on Czech media and the judicial system.

MEPs said they want any alleged rule of law breaches to be investigated and, if confirmed, the conditionality clause to be activated.

In a report, MEPs highlighted “the lack of initiative” by the Czech government in addressing the conflict of interest situation and Czech government attempts to legalise Babiš’ conflict of interest.

MEPs said they are also concerned by the political pressure exerted on independent Czech media as well as the resignation of the prosecutor general, who stated pressure from the minister of justice as their reason for resigning.

MEPs say it is “unacceptable” that Babiš remains part of Council negotiations on budget and EU programmes, including the negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy, while continuing to receive EU agricultural payments via the Agrofert group companies.

German EPP member Monika Hohlmeier said, “It is unacceptable how oligarchic structures expanded, consolidated and enriched themselves with EU and Czech national funding.”

“MEPs cannot, and Member States should not, tolerate people with a clear conflict of interest deciding on the programming and distribution of common agricultural and cohesion funds.”

“Billionaires should no longer have the opportunity to receive hundreds of millions in EU subsidies.”

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