The European Commission has proposed restricting access to EU funds where a member state is in violation of the rule of law, in an unprecedented measure that could be written into the bloc’s budget for the 2021-2027 period.
“Respect for the rule of law is a prerequisite for sound financial management and effective budget implementation. That is why we are proposing a new mechanism that will protect the budget in terms of the risks associated with deficiencies in the rule of law,” explained the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker to the European Parliament.
“This is a mechanism of general application because it does not target specific Member States,” he insisted. However, commentators have been quick to point to the Polish and Hungarian governments as the targets of the new provision.
As an important innovation in the proposed budget, the strengthened link between EU funds and the rule of law aims to protect the EU budget from the financial risks associated with widespread failures of the rule of law in EU member States, stressed the Commission.
If approved by the Member States and the European Parliament, the proposed new instruments will allow the Union to suspend, reduce or restrict access to EU funds in a manner commensurate with the nature, severity and the extent of the violation of the rule of law.
The measure which has been proposed by the Commission must then be adopted by the Council (which represents the member countries) by a “reversed qualified majority” vote, whereby a Commission proposal is deemed to be adopted unless the Council decides by qualified majority to reject it within a given deadline. Each member state has a certain number of votes for the votes. This procedure makes it much more likely that the proposal will pass as it would require at least 255 votes out of a total of 345 for it to be rejected.
Several countries are calling for this mechanism to draw lessons from the unsuccessful standoff between Brussels and the ultra-conservative Polish government, accused of threatening the independence of its judiciary.
In view of the cumbersome nature of the current procedure launched by the Commission, the idea is to be able to use financial pressure in comparable cases.
“We will not accept arbitrary mechanisms that will make the management of funds an instrument of political pressure on demand,” warned Polish Deputy Minister for European Affairs Konrad Szymanski.