Rule of law in Europe needs fact-based approach, not partisan debates says Sant

Labour MEP says rule of law mechanism for EU must be free of partisan political manoeuvring

Labour MEP Alfred Sant
Labour MEP Alfred Sant

Can rule of law in the European Union be conditioned by a carrot-and-stick approach tied to EU funds?

MEPs think this is the way forward to bring in line errant member state government who do not act on rule of law breaches even when called to attention by the EU itself.

Many resolutions inside the European Parliament have seen MEPs pass judgement on countries such as Malta, Hungary, Poland or Bulgaria. Yet one Maltese MEP who remains a critic of such debates – consistently abstaining on these votes – is Alfred Sant, the former Labour prime minister who thinks MEPs are too often motivated by partisan allegiances when criticising member state governments.

“At present, despite the rhetoric, mechanisms that truly safeguard the rule of law in the EU do not exist,” Sant stated in a recent vote at the ed of March where he supported a legally-binding “conditionality regulation” that will restrict funds to countries refusing to act on rule of law breaches.

“The EU needs a mechanism to safeguard the rule of law,” Sant said, “and it could be a step towards the introduction of an EU mechanism that would truly and legitimately safeguard the rule of law in the Union.”

All Maltese MEPs voted in favour of the European Parliament resolution on rule of law conditionality.

The rule of law conditionality mechanism is a new tool designed to protect EU funds from being misused by EU governments found to have failed to respect the principle of the rule of law. The resolution was adopted on by 529 votes in favour, 148 against and 10 abstentions.

Sant agreed with the principle that the respect of fundamental rights should be safeguarded in all the EU’s acts and policies.

But he said procedures to implement this objective must be transparent and objective if they are to be valid and meaningful.

“They must be free of all subjective and partisan political manoeuvring, and applicable independently of the EU’s executive and legislative branches. Unfortunately, the record has been patchy at best when rule of law considerations have come up for scrutiny by EU institutions, not least this Parliament.

“Consistently, political criteria served to trump fact-based approaches. All sides have played this game but the text we have voted upon limits such effects. It puts clear boundaries to the field of application of rule of law checks. This is not ideal but, in the circumstances, it promotes a meaningful focus for how rule of law considerations can be developed.”

MEPs insist the existing rules on the rule of law must be appljied, particularly given potential implications for the upcoming disbursement of the NextGenerationEU recovery fund.

Most MEPs have said the Regulation is legally binding – regardless of the position adopted by the European Council, which carries no legal effect, and despite the ongoing legal actions before the Court of Justice of the European Union, which do not have any suspensory effect.

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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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