Rule of law: MEPs warn Brussels to activate budget mechanism without further delay

MEPs want the European Commission to fulfil its obligations in using the new budget protection mechanism on rule of law breaches

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

In a plenary debate on Thursday, MEPs quizzed Commissioner Johannes Hahn on why the Commission has not yet used the mechanism to protect the EU’s budget from generalised deficiencies as regards 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 using the mechanism is necessary to fulfil the EU’s promises and meet citizens’ expectations, in order to avoid losing credibility.

On a similar note, some MEPs referred to the need to protect the real beneficiaries of EU funding, such as students and civil society, 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 activating the mechanism, and that these need to take into account the ECJ ruling (expected in May) 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. Some also pointed out the Commission’s obligation to act as a politically independent body and its role as the guardian of the Treaties.

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.

Parliament will vote on a draft resolution on this topic during its March II plenary session, scheduled for 24-25 March. 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 to that member state from the EU budget. The Council will then have one month to vote on the proposed measures (or three months in exceptional cases), by qualified majority.

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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