The European Commission adopted last week guidelines on the rule of law conditionality mechanism which aims to protect the EU budget against breaches of the principles of the rule of law.
The guidelines explain in detail how the Commission will apply the regulation, including how the rights of the final recipients and beneficiaries of EU funding will be protected.
As previously reported, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in mid-February that the conditionality mechanism was adopted by the EU on an appropriate legal basis and respects the limits of the powers conferred on the EU and the principle of legal certainty. In its ruling, ECJ dismissed the actions brought by Hungary and Poland against the mechanism.
After ca two weeks of analysing the ruling, the Commission issued the long-awaited guidelines. The European Parliament has protested against the delays in issuing the guidelines and even demanded that the Commission starts to apply the mechanism without waiting for them.
“The rule of law is the glue that binds our Union together, it is the foundation of our unity,” European Commission President von der Leyen commented.
The Commission also underlines the need to protect the rights of the final recipients or beneficiaries of EU funding, “as EU countries should continue to make payments under EU programmes or funds under all circumstances”.
The Commission will propose appropriate and proportionate measures to the Council when the Regulation's conditions are met and when no other procedure set out in EU legislation would allow it to protect the Union budget more effectively. The Council will then take a final decision.
The Commission has several times asserted that it has been investigating potential cases since the regulation entered into force last year, without waiting for the guidelines, but that it does not comment on individual cases.
When will the Commission start applying the guidelines and activate the mechanism?
“The Commission has been applying the regulation since January 2021,” a Commission spokesperson told The Brussels Times on Monday. “Ever since, the Commission has been monitoring the situation across the EU countries and collecting relevant information”.
Under the conditionality regulation, the Commission may contact the EU member state concerned and request information. “The information requested will feed into the Commission’s assessment of whether the conditions to send member states a notification under the conditionality regime are fulfilled. The Commission will start the procedure if the necessary conditions are fulfilled.”
Poland and Hungary, the two countries that questioned the legality of the conditionality mechanism, were expected to have their EU funding suspended or reduced because of alleged breaches of the rule of law that affects the EU budget. In the current situation, when the two EU member states are receiving hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the war in Ukraine, that is not likely to happen very soon.
The Brussels Times