In a rare move on Thursday, the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament voted for the Parliament to take the European Commission to court for inaction on the Rule of Law Conditionality Mechanism.
According to the committee, despite numerous breaches of the rule of law endangering the proper use of EU funds, the Commission has failed to activate the mechanism.
The mechanism is part of the post-Coronavirus crisis recovery package and was introduced to allow for the suspension or reduction of EU funding to member states with focus on financial irregularities. However, according to a Council decision, further legal clarification by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) was required.
The Commission was also supposed to draft guidelines on the application of the mechanism. Both Hungary and Poland have filed legal complaints to the court. In the meantime, the Commission is not proposing any measures under the mechanism but has assured that it already has started to look at possible cases.
The Parliament gave a deadline of 1 July to apply the mechanism in view of the adoption of the national resilience and recovery plans and this deadline has since long passed.
When asked in August about the status of the rule-of-law conditionality mechanism, a Commission spokesperson said that it was still in the middle of a consultation process with the European Parliament and the Member States to finalise guidelines on how to apply the mechanism. The consultation was running for 10 weeks and was expected to be finalised by early September.
Asked again at yesterday’s press briefing (15 October), the spokesperson replied that it had responded to the Parliament on 23 August, saying it was in full agreement with the Parliament and that the regulation must be applied in full.
He quoted European President Ursula von der Leyen who in her state of the union speech on 15 September said that, “When it comes to protecting our budget, we will pursue every case, with everything in our power”.
According to the spokesperson, the Commission has been working hard since the beginning of 2021 to assess potential cases and assured that it will be in position in the near future to notify member states under the rule of law mechanism. However, the Commission is still working on taking into account the feedback it received during the consultation on the guidelines.
MEPs are losing patience with the Commission. “The rule of law conditionality mechanism is an important part of making governments accountable for misuse of EU funds due to deficiencies of rule of law,” commented Sergey Lagodinsky (Greens/EFA), vice chair of the Committee on Legal Affairs. “It has been in place since the start of the year and yet the Commission hesitated to use it.”
He mentioned the current Polish rule of law crisis as an example “why the Commission needs to show its unambiguous commitment to stand up for European values . . . If legal obligations are put into question, the EU must be able to limit financial flows that otherwise would remain unaccounted and unsupervised.”
The Brussels Times