Political groups accused of waging ‘political witch-hunt’ against certain Member States

The row surrounds the EU’s new rule of law conditionality mechanism, recently adopted by the European Commission.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

31 Mar 2021

The rule of law mechanism, agreed late last year, aims to makes sure that every Member State that wants to receive EU funding sticks to “the basic principles of democracy and the rule of law.”

Many want the Commission to now implement the mechanism against Poland and Hungary, two Member States which have regularly found themselves at loggerheads with the EU over alleged rule of law breaches.

But MEPs are angry at the Commission’s apparent reluctance so far to take legal action against the EU’s two perceived “laggards” under the conditionality mechanism.

Some say they want Parliament to take legal action against the Commission itself.

Dutch Renew Europe member Sophie in ‘t Veld is among those who feel the Commission should take a tougher stand against Poland and Hungary.

She said, “The issues with the Polish and Hungarian governments are of a political, not legal nature. So a technocratic legal response will not solve the situation. A political response is required. As much as they try, the Commission and Council cannot escape taking a stance.”

“We cannot accept the fact that the Left threatens national governments on a party-political basis. Interfering in domestic politics of Member States goes far beyond Treaty provisions of the European Parliament”

Ryszard Legutko, ECR Group co-leader

But an MEP from the same party as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán - the long time “bête noire” of the EU - has accused mainstream political parties in Parliament of a “witch-hunt.”

Tamás Deutsch, head of the Fidesz delegation in the European Parliament, told this site, “In ‘t Veld’s statement confirms that the actual goal of the Left with the so called rule of law conditionality mechanism is not the protection of the Union’s financial interests, but the financial punishments of conservative governments.”

“In the middle of Europe’s worst health and economic crisis, unity and solidarity should prevail over political witch-hunts.”

Renew Europe, in a statement, has given a “loud and clear warning”, saying, “if the Commission fails to fulfil its obligations under the regulation, the European Parliament will take legal action on their failure to act.”

The EPP Group also says it wants the rule of law conditionality mechanism to “start to work fully as soon as possible” and calls on the Commission to “not delay the application of the new rules any further.”

Finnish EPP member Petri Sarvamaa, Parliament’s negotiator of the mechanism, said, “There is no reason to delay this.”

“The actual goal of the Left with the so called rule-of-law conditionality mechanism is not the protection of the Union’s financial interests, but the financial punishments of conservative governments” Tamás Deutsch, head of the Fidesz delegation in the European Parliament

He adds, “The rule of law conditionality has been valid since the beginning of this year. The superfluous European Council conclusions on the adoption of the guidelines do not change this fact.”

He goes on, “They cannot overwrite a law. We expect that the Commission has been evaluating all possible new and persisting rule of law breaches impacting the financial interests of the EU since the beginning of the year. If the Commission plans to adopt non-binding guidelines on top of its legal duties, it must do so quickly.”

Renew Europe leader Dacian Cioloș said Parliament should not exclude bringing legal action against the Commission over the issue.

He said, “We will not rest before the battle is won. We are ready to defend the legal validity of the regulation before the European Court of Justice.”

Expressing “determination to make sure that the rule of law conditionality mechanism is enforced,” the Romanian member said some Member States see the EU “as a cash machine that does not require them to be accountable for their repeated violations of the European Union's fundamental principles.”

But the parliamentary delegations of the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) and Hungarian Fidesz have attacked the rule of law mechanism.

“The issues with the Polish and Hungarian governments are of a political, not legal nature. So a technocratic legal response will not solve the situation. A political response is required. As much as they try, the Commission and Council cannot escape taking a stance” Sophie in ‘t Veld, Renew Europe

Polish MEP Ryszard Legutko, head of the PiS delegation and co-leader of the ECR group, said, “We cannot accept the fact that the Left threatens national governments on a party-political basis. Interfering in domestic politics of Member States goes far beyond Treaty provisions on the European Parliament.”

He added, “It is actually undermining the foundations of an honest cooperation between Member States and the EU institutions. This position only brings more division in Europe, which is unacceptable for us.”

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