MEPs on Thursday approved a proposal to deny EU funds to Member States that fail to uphold the rule of law or tolerate fraud and corruption.
The proposal, which was passed with 397 votes in favour and 158 votes against states that “governments that obstruct justice or do not fight against fraud and corruption risk suspension of EU funds”.
The Parliament must now enter into negotiations with the Council of the EU (the Member States), which has not yet defined its position. The result of these negotiations will then have to be voted on before they can come into force.
According to the legislative proposal, the European Commission, assisted by experts, “would be in charge of establishing whether there is a generalised rule of law failure” and to decide on the measures to be taken, which could include the suspension of payments under the EU budget or the reduction of pre-financing”. A suspension or reduction of European payments would need to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council before being implemented
The European Commission proposed creating this unprecedented link between between the payment of European funds and respect for the rule of law last May, with the President of the Commission Jean-Claude Juncker assuring that it was not intended to target “Member States in particular”.
However, it comes on the back of a deterioration in relations between Brussels and countries such as Poland, Hungary and Romania, which stand accused of attempting to undermine their respective judiciaries and in the case of Romania in particular, of attempting to roll-back anti-corruption legislation
The Commission has initiated article seven procedures against both Hungary and Poland, which could ultimately result in these countries losing their voting rights in the European Council. In Poland’s case for its judicial reforms which, according to the Commission have put the country’s justice system “under the political control of the ruling majority”. In Hungary, the procedure was initiated as a result of what the Commission sees as a series of attacks against independent media and NGOs as well as a failure to comply with EU policies regarding the acceptance of asylum seekers.
However, due to the cumbersome process involved in invoking article seven, which requires a unanimous vote in favour of sanctioning the target country, the new proposal to withhold EU funds is seen by its supporters as a more effective way to exert pressure on transgressing governments.