Rule of Law conditionality: Parliament wants investigations launched immediately | News | European Parliament
News | European Parliament
MEPs instruct EP President Sassoli to call on the Commission, within two weeks at the latest, to “fulfil its obligations” under the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation.
In a resolution adopted on Thursday with 506 votes in favour, 150 against and 28 abstentions, MEPs note that the new conditionality instrument to protect the EU budget has been in force since 1 January 2021 and also applies to the Recovery funds. Despite this, the Commission has not proposed any measures under the new rules and has not respected the deadline of 1 June given by Parliament in its 25 March resolution to finalise the guidelines on the application of the Regulation. This “constitutes a sufficient basis for taking legal actions under Article 265 of the TFEU against the Commission”, they say.
The risk of the EU budget being misused in EU countries has grown and rule of law is deteriorating, MEPs stress, and they instruct President Sassoli to call on the Commission, within two weeks at the latest, to “fulfil its obligations” under the new regulation. To be ready, “the Parliament shall in the meantime immediately start the necessary preparations for potential court proceedings under Article 265 of TFEU against the Commission”.
MEPs urge the Commission to swiftly address the severe violations of the principle of rule of law in some member states that are seriously jeopardising the fair, legal and impartial distribution of EU funds. It should use all tools necessary, including the procedure foreseen in Article 7 of the EU Treaty, the EU rule of law framework and the infringement procedures, to address the persistent violations of democracy and fundamental rights in the EU, including attacks on media freedom, journalists, as well as freedom of association and assembly.
The rule of law conditionality regulation, designed to protect EU funds against their possible misuse by EU governments, entered into force on 1 January 2021. However, no measures have been proposed under the new rules. The European Council asked the Commission to delay their application so member states could challenge it in the EU Court of Justice (Poland and Hungary did so on 11 March 2021), and until the Commission had developed specific application guidelines.
In a resolution adopted in March 2021, Parliament reiterated that the European Council’s conclusions on this matter carry no legal effect, and that application of the new regulation cannot be subject to any guidelines. If the Commission deemed such guidelines necessary, they should be adopted no later than 1 June. MEPs also asked the Commission to consult the Parliament before their adoption. In a committee meeting on 26 May, the Commission indicated it intends to consult the Parliament in the first half of June.
The Commission’s audit findings confirm the ongoing conflict of interest of Czech Prime Minister Babiš that Parliament raised in several resolutions and discharge reports.
In a draft resolution adopted on Wednesday with 26 votes in favour, none against and 4 abstentions, the Budgetary Control Committee calls on the Commission to address this conflict of interest alongside reports of the Prime Minister’s influence on Czech media and the judicial system. MEPs want any alleged rule of law breaches to be investigated and, if confirmed, they want the conditionality mechanism for the protection of the Union’s budget to be activated.
Concerns over rule of law
In their report, MEPs remark on the lack of initiative by the Czech government in addressing the conflict of interest situation and quote reported Czech government attempts in March 2020 to legalise Babiš’ conflict of interest via ad hoc legislation. MEPs are also concerned by the political pressure exerted on independent Czech media as well as the resignation of the prosecutor general, who stated pressure from the minister of justice as their reason for resigning.
The draft text voices “serious doubts on the independence of Czech authorities” in charge of distributing direct agricultural payments and asks the Commission to open an audit procedure into the management of the State Agricultural Intervention Fund.
Czech citizens should not pay for Babiš’ conflict of interest
The committee condemns the practice of withdrawing projects from European funding to finance them via the national budget when Commission or EU auditors detect irregularities. Czech citizens “should not pay for the conflict of interest of the Prime Minister”, MEPs say. They demand that Agrofert group companies repay all subsidies unlawfully received from EU or Czech national budgets, and call for the disbursement of EU funds to companies controlled by Babiš or other members of the Czech government to be stopped, until the cases of conflict of interests are fully resolved.
Babiš should not be involved in negotiations linked to the EU budget while in conflict of interest
MEPs find it unacceptable that the Czech Prime Minister has been, and is still actively, part of Council negotiations on budget and EU programmes, including the negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy, while continuing to receive EU agricultural payments via the Agrofert group companies. “No minister, member or representative of a national government shall participate in negotiations while affected by a conflict of interest”, they say.
Systemic weakness in EU reporting
The draft resolution criticises the lengthy EU audit process, and the contradictory procedures as well as financial correction procedures lasting several years. MEPs call for a revision of the rules to allow for more timely conclusions and recovery of unduly paid EU funds and for a standardised and publicly accessible format, such as an interoperable digital reporting and monitoring system to disclose the end beneficiaries of CAP disbursements.
The European Parliament, by 536 votes to 156 and 3 abstentions delivered, in a secret ballot, a negative opinion on Mr Marek Opioła, who was nominated by Poland to become a member of the European Court of Auditors.
After a hearing with the Polish candidate Mr Marek Opioła on 7 December, the EP Budgetary Control Committee recommended that the Parliament should not endorse his candidacy.
Mr Opioła is currently Vice President of the Polish Supreme Audit Office – read his full CV.
The ECA candidates (one per member state) are put forward by member states and approved by the Council, after consulting the European Parliament. MEPs can either back the candidate or ask for the nomination to be withdrawn.
The Council is not bound to follow the Parliament’s recommendation. In 2016, MEPs delivered a negative opinion on the previous Polish ECA nominee Janusz Wojciechowski, who was nevertheless appointed to become a member of the ECA.
The Polish post has been vacant since Mr Wojciechowski became the European Commissioner for Agriculture on 1 December 2019.