MEPs expected to push Commission to act on rule of law as Parliament returns

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Members of the European Parliament return to Strasbourg this week with the evolving situation in Afghanistan expected to be high up on the agenda.

However, it is the inter-institutional struggle on the rule of law mechanism which is expected to raise the temperature within the European Parliament’s corridors. German MEP Birgit Sippel accused the European Commission of trying to buy time and push responsibilities on the Parliament by asking us to detail again why the conditions for using the rule of law mechanism under Article 265 are met: “Pretending that the conditions are not fulfilled is pathetic and only plays into the hands of Orbán, PiS & co.”, she said.

The German MEP added that “in contrast to the Commission, we are not afraid to call a spade a spade: the conditions for applying the rule of law mechanism are more than met. We expect the Commission to act. It is long overdue.”

The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) will be tackling the rule of law situation at their meeting tomorrow morning, with debates involving Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders on the Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law Report, and with the Slovenian Presidency’s Justice Minister Marjan Dikaučič.

Parliament had before recess made strong calls for action on Hungary and Poland. LIBE members will also question them on what is perceived by Parliament as a lack of progress in the ongoing Article 7 procedures concerning the two countries which were launched in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) had declared a two-month ultimatum June in a resolution that included the threat of legal action. In this resolution, they had called on the EU executive to make use what is referred to as the “conditionality instrument” and prevent certain EU countries accused of democratic backsliding — such as Poland and Hungary — from benefiting from EU funds. Under this agreement, the Commission can freeze EU funding if Member States breach EU legislation.

Last week, Commission spokesperson Balázs Ujvári described the mechanism an element of “last resort”. “We will not go ahead until we make sure that in terms of our toolbox this is the right instrument to be used and the work has been ongoing in this regard for a number of months,” Ujvári said. “When all the conditions are met for us to start implementing the regulation we will not hesitate to do so.”

Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld described the Commission’s position as “an insult to Parliament and European citizens”. This view was shared by liberal MEP Katalin Cseh, who threatened: “Any politically motivated foot-dragging is against EU law. We cannot let go until the rule of law mechanism is implemented. It’s time to go to court.”