Brussels (Brussels Morning) The European Parliament is ready to sue the European Commission over its “non-action” in investigating potential breaches of the rule of law in Hungary. In making their case, MEPs cite repeated attacks on human rights and media freedom, the lack of transparency in relation to management of EU funds and the growing authoritarianism of the country’s regime.
During the plenary session in Strasbourg, MEPs accused the EU executive of stalling, by developing “unnecessary” guidelines rather than applying the provisions of the budget conditionality law — the one piece of EU legislation that directly links rule of law issues with access to EU funds.
In today’s vote, MEPs voted 529 in favour of admonishing the Commission, with 150 against and 14 abstentions.
“The [rule of law] mechanism came into force on January 1, and yet it hasn’t been implemented”, MEP Eider Gardiazabal Rubial (S&D) declared. “From the beginning we were very clear that these guidelines were not needed. We agreed on a regulation and we expect it to finally be applied”, he argued.
Parliament wants action
MEPs criticised the Commission for having missed the 1 June deadline that had been set by the Parliament for applying the regulation and adoption of the guidelines.
On 23 June, Parliament President David Sassoli sent a letter to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declaring that if the Commission did not act, Parliament was prepared to take the EU executive to the Court of Justice.
Sassoli also noted that the Parliament has to continue the necessary legal preparations in order to proceed against the Commission for “non-action”.
“Parliament has launched the legal procedure so that the Commission applies the Rule of Law conditionality regulation from autumn onwards”, MEP Petru Sarvamaa (EPP) stated.
A report commissioned by the Greens in Parliament calls on the Commission to activate the new rule of law mechanism and to suspend EU funds in Hungary.
“We have performed an analysis of the various EU legal instruments designed to ensure the proper spending of EU funds and have determined that the problematic stewardship of EU funds in Hungary is best addressed through the immediate application of the Conditionality Regulation”, the report issued yesterday stated.
Guidelines vs. law
MEPs stressed that the guidelines cannot alter, expand or restrict the existing law on budget conditionality.
MEPs insisted that the guidelines must clarify how the legislative provisions are to be applied in practice. This entails outlining the procedure and methodology, and avoiding exhaustive definitions of abstract concepts of the regulation.
“People are worried about their liberties, minorities are suppressed, free media are shut down or bought by government oligarchs, judicial systems are party-politicised and independent judges are replaced by party loyalists”, Sarvamaa pointed out, underscoring that all these actions are happening with EU money.
The Executive Director of the NGO Defend Democracy Alice Stollmeyer said Hungary had already engaged in “grave breaches” of rule of law, as defined by existing legislation.
“No need to draft ‘guidelines’ — the regulation can be applied today”, she urged.