MEPs warn Commission to activate rule of law mechanism without delay 

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MEPs stressed that Parliament will use all means at its disposal if the Commission fails to fulfil its obligations in using the new mechanism to protect the budget.

In a plenary debate on Thursday, MEPs quizzed Commissioner Hahn on why the Commission has not yet used the mechanism to protect the EU’s budget from breaches to the principles of the rule of law. Highlighting that the new rules entered into force on 1 January, almost all speakers reiterated that the provisions on the mechanism are legally binding, in contrast to the European Council’s conclusions on the matter, which carry no legal effect.

Several speakers highlighted that the EU must use the mechanism to fulfil its promises, meet citizens’ expectations and avoid losing credibility. The real beneficiaries of EU funding (such as students and civil society) must be protected, some MEPs stressed, and asked for clarity on the state of the Commission’s digital platform dedicated to this end.

Many MEPs reacted strongly to Commissioner Hahn’s statement that work on the guidelines for the new mechanism needs to be completed before it is used, and that the guidelines need to take into account the ECJ ruling where appropriate. Highlighting an array of long-standing issues and the continuous deterioration of the situation in some countries, including Hungary and Poland, they asked for immediate action to prevent further damage to the EU’s budget and values. The Commission has an obligation to act as a politically independent body and is the guardian of the Treaties, some MEPs pointed out.

In contrast, a few speakers denounced the debate and the mechanism itself as politically motivated, with some among them asking for the Council’s conclusions to be respected.

You can catch up with the debate here.

Next steps

Parliament will vote on a draft resolution on this topic during its March II plenary session, scheduled for 24-25 March.

Background

According to the rules approved in December 2020, the Commission, after establishing that there has been a breach, will propose that the conditionality mechanism should be triggered against an EU government, and subsequently either cut or freeze payments from the EU budget to that member state. The Council will then have one month to vote on the proposed measures (or three months in exceptional cases), by qualified majority.