Sunday 19 September 2021

Rule of Law: start applying budget conditionality immediately

The budget conditionality regulation is the only piece of EU legislation linking the respect of the rule of law to access to EU funds. It entered into force on 1 January 2021. However, no measures under it have been proposed yet. The European Council asked the Commission to delay the application of the regulation while member states challenge it in the EU Court of Justice (Poland and Hungary did so on 11 March 2021), and until the Commission had developed specific application guidelines.

In a resolution adopted in March 2021, Parliament said that the application of the new regulation cannot be subject to any guidelines.

• Guidelines currently being developed by the Commission are not necessary

• Situation in some member states warrants immediate launch of investigations

The budget conditionality regulation does not require any additional clarification to be applied and rule of law breaches must be addressed without delay, say MEPs.

In a resolution adopted by the Budget and Budgetary Control committees on Thursday with 53 votes 11 against and 2 abstentions, MEPs regret that the Commission has decided to abide by the non-binding December 2020 European Council conclusions and delay application of the budget conditionality regulation.

Guidelines should not restrict the law

They stress that the guidelines cannot alter, expand or restrict the scope of the budget conditionality regulation and that, in order to add any value, they must clarify how the legislative provisions will be applied in practice, outlining the procedure, definitions and methodology.

They also call on the Commission to set out a “clear, precise and user-friendly system” for submitting complaints under the regulation.

Rule of law breaches must be addressed without delay

MEPs call on the Commission to investigate swiftly any potential breaches of the principles of the rule of law “that affect or seriously risk affecting the sound financial management of the Union budget”, by pointing out that “the situation in some member states already warrants immediate action”.

The Commission should report to Parliament on the first cases under investigation by October 2021 the latest, they add.

Parliament could take legal action against the Commission

MEPs finally criticise the Commission for having missed the deadline set by Parliament to apply the regulation and adopt the guidelines by 1 June 2021. They welcome the 23 June letter by the President of Parliament saying that if the Commission does not act, the EP will take action in the Court of Justice.

“We are now one step closer to finally applying the Conditionality regulation against those breaking the Rule of Law in the member states. With the Parliament’s contribution to the guidelines, we offer the Commission the means and tools to act without hesitation. The regulation is ready to be used”, said the co-rapporteur Petri Sarvamaa (EPP, FI) after the vote.

“We have said from the beginning that the guidelines were not necessary, but the Commission put forward its proposal and asked the EP for its position. So here it is. Parliament is always ready to work with the Commission on the rule of law, and in turn we expect the European Commission not to deceive us. It must act swiftly and strongly”, said the co-rapporteur Eider Gardiazabal Rubial (S&D, ES).

Next Steps

The resolution will be put to the vote by the full Parliament during the plenary session of 5-8 July.

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