European politics

EU lawmakers threaten to sue European Commission over rule of law inaction

A man walks near the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on October 6, 2020.
A man walks near the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on October 6, 2020. AFP - SEBASTIEN BOZON

The EU Parliament has threatened the European Commission with a lawsuit for failing to use the bloc's new rule of law powers to hold back recovery cash from Poland and Hungary.

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The rule-of-law mechanism was included in the 750-billion-euro pandemic recovery package approved a year ago as a way to use EU spending to rein in breaches of the bloc's democratic norms in both countries.

The EU parliament called on the Commission to "fulfil its obligations" within two weeks or risk a lawsuit at EU court.

MEPs backing the resolution fear that the largesse of the EU's landmark plan will benefit the campaigns of the ruling eurosceptic nationalists in upcoming elections in Hungary and Poland.

"It is out of the question that the European budget and recovery plan finance the repression of freedoms or the re-election of conservative autocrats in Hungary or Poland," said French MEP Fabienne Keller.

In the resolution overwhelmingly adopted on Thursday, MEPs said the Brussels-based executive should have proposed guidelines for the scheme by June and that the commission was falling short of using its full powers.

Polish MEP Ryszard Legutko, of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, criticised the resolution as "a method of dictation and control against governments that break away from the (pro-EU) federalist mainstream".

Violations of the rule of law

The Parliament wants the Commission to react more quickly to possible violations of the rule of law in member states and to cut EU funds in cases of non-compliance.

The risks of misappropriation of EU funds are "increasing" and risk sapping payouts from the European recovery plan all while the state of the rule of law "is deteriorating", a statement said.

ILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for the first face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium July 19, 2020.
ILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for the first face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium July 19, 2020. REUTERS - POOL

Including rule-of-law considerations in the recovery plan was at the insistence of the Netherlands and Nordic countries and still faces the bitter resistance of Warsaw and Budapest.

To placate their opposition, member states had agreed that it would not be implemented until the EU's highest court ruled on its validity.

Poland and Hungary swiftly seized the European Court of Justice to have the mechanism annulled, a process that could take almost a year.

(with agencies)

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