Vera Jourova, European Commission vice-president for values and transparency, was reported on the Financial Times urging the 27 countries and EU parliament now debating the new rule aimed at protecting the new €1.7tn economic recovery package to “have it done”, or risk further internal rifts. “We are going to distribute €1.7tn in an atmosphere where trust between member states is decreasing,” Ms Jourova said in an interview. “It cannot work. We cannot overheat the system. There must be some safeguard.”
During Monday´s plenary debate, most MEPs criticised the Council’s position on the “rule of law conditionality mechanism” adopted last week, saying it did not create an instrument that could ever be triggered in practice. With continued violations of rule of law and corruption in some EU countries, the EU owed it to its citizens and taxpayers to effectively protect the EU budget. Some even called on the EU to stop financing breaches of fundamental rights in the member states.
The German presidency of the Council and the European Commission were blamed by some MEPs for creating an ideology that would allow individual member states to be attacked.
Michael Roth of the Council presidency highlighted the fact that the Council and the Parliament were finally in agreement on the need for such an instrument, with all of the EU countries on board with the current proposal, and now had the unique opportunity to create its content together. He asked for Parliament’s help in moving the legislators’ positions closer to each other, and expressed his hope that Parliament would support the instrument’s rapid adoption.
During the SOTEU speech, EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen said that “breaches of the rule of law cannot be tolerated”, adding that she will continue to defend it and the integrity of the European institutions. “Be it about the primacy of European law, the freedom of the press, the independence of the judiciary or the sale of golden passports. European values are not for sale.”
Last week, the EU published its first EU wide Rule of Law report.
The first-ever report by the European Union’s executive on rule of law gaps across the bloc, seen by Reuters ahead of official release later on Wednesday, singled out challenges to media and the judiciary as key risks to upholding democratic standards.
The report said the coronavirus has served as a “stress test” of rule of law resilience across the bloc and that some emergency measures adopted by national governments to tackle the pandemic went too far.
“When emergency powers lower institutional checks on the decision makers, the scrutiny of public decisions by media and civil society becomes all the more important,” it said. “However, in certain Member States, media and civil society have been facing new obstacles.”
The second major area of concern was undermining the independence of the judiciary, with the report by the European Commission singling out for criticism Poland, Hungary, as well as Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Slovakia. It also noted related debates in Germany and Austria.
“Poland’s justice reforms since 2015 have been a major source of controversy,” the report said, adding that Hungary was also among member states where “the direction of change has given rise to serious concern about the impact of reforms on judicial independence.” The Commission also noted corruption woes in Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Malta.