The European Parliament strongly called on the European Commission to apply the Rule of Law Conditionality Mechanism by notifying the member states concerned in writing, a move which will raise further tensions with Poland and Hungary.
In a resolution adopted on Thursday evening during a plenary session in Strasbourg, MEPs welcomed the European Court of Justice’s recent judgement dismissing the actions by Hungary and Poland against the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation, as well as the Court’s conclusions that the regulation is in line with EU law and its powers as regards rule of law. 478 lawmakers expressed their support towards this resolution, with 155 voting against and 29 abstaining.
In a statement, the EP stressed that it is “high time” for the Commission to fulfil its duties as the guardian of the EU Treaties and react to the ongoing violations of the principles of the rule of law in some EU member states, which pose a danger to the European Union’s financial interests. Inaction towards oligarchic structures weakens the entire European Union, says the text, insisting that taxpayers’ money needs to be protected against those who undermine the EU’s values.
A number of MEPs had questioned the timing of this resolution, given Poland’s, and to a lesser extent Hungary’s efforts at welcoming a significant influx of refugees escaping war in Ukraine. Addressing a press briefing before the vote, EPP Chairman Manfred Weber, insisted that his group’s stance on the situation in the two Eastern countries will not change, but argued that voting on this issue this week made no sense in view of the current developments. He said that Poland and Hungary’s efforts to welcome hundreds and thousands of refugees is commendable, but that should not exonerate them from respecting the values which are upheld by the European Union, including the rule of law.
Earlier this year, a nine-MEP strong delegation had visited Warsaw for a final assessment on the situation, with Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES), Chair of the Civil Liberties Committee, reporting that “the situation of rule of law in Poland has further deteriorated since our last visit in 2018.” The Socialist MEP said that the Polish authorities “must understand that only by respecting and applying all criteria set out by the European courts on the independence of the judiciary will the situation improve”.
In separate comments following the vote yesterday, European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova said the European Court of Justice’s dismissal of complaints against the so-called “conditionality mechanism” by Poland and Hungary meant it was “perfectly legal and usable”. But she said the Commission was analysing responses to its concerns over rule of law from Poland and Hungary and would not detail when and against which member state the sanction would be used.
It would only go into effect when the Commission had evidence “that there is such a deficiency of the rule of law which means that the EU funding is endangered”, Jourova said. She added that proposals by Poland to reform a procedure for disciplining judges, one issue which led the Commission to freeze billions of euros in pandemic recovery funds, was a “positive step”.
Disagreements over the rule of law come as the bloc seeks to present a united front over the Ukraine crisis. Poland and Hungary have threatened to retaliate against attempts to withhold funds by stalling other EU decisions that require unanimity, including on climate and energy, as well as foreign policy.