EU’s new rule-of-law mechanism may never be used in practice: FT

The European Union’s new, much-hyped rule-of-law mechanism, which seeks to tie access to EU funds to respecting the rule of law, may never be used in practice, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday, amid opposition by some governments.

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The newspaper said in an article that the EU’s planned rule-of-law conditions on its next long-term budget have sparked a crisis that risks delaying the adoption of the bloc’s EUR 1.8 trillion pandemic recovery package by the end of the year.

The FT reported that Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of the fiercest critics of the rule-of-law mechanism, has portrayed the measure as a politically motivated and illegal attempt to punish his government by withholding funds.

Meanwhile, many European lawmakers have welcomed the tool as “a muscular way to — finally — sanction violations of EU values by illiberal governments,” according to the paper.

“The reality is that neither is quite true,” the FT article, penned by Mehreen Khan and David Hindley, said.

The authors argue that the draft text of the mechanism, when read in full, shows that “the EU has arguably missed its opportunity to create a sanctions mechanism with teeth and instead opted for one that may never be used in practice.”

Khan and Hindley quoted a European parliament official they did not name as saying that the measure, agreed by MEPs and EU diplomats this month, is “not a rule-of-law mechanism but a procedurally flawed anti-corruption tool.”

All this “raises the fundamental question of whether the rule of law mechanism will ever be used,” the FT article said.

It cited EU officials it did name as saying that the European Commission was unlikely to risk triggering sanctions against any member state because such a move could be struck down in court.

The FT writers quoted one official as saying that the proposed rule-of-law mechanism “will never be enforced and will only create political resentment on all sides.”

Polish PM: 'Arbitrary and politically motivated criteria'

The EU budget must be approved unanimously by the bloc’s 27 member states.

Poland has warned it could veto the bloc’s 2021-2027 budget if access to EU funds is linked to respect for the rule of law.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki this month told EU leaders his country opposed the use of “non-objective criteria” to decide how much cash member states receive from Brussels, according to a spokesman.

Morawiecki earlier said in a letter to the bloc’s leaders that his country could not accept a mechanism of this kind because it was based on “arbitrary and politically motivated criteria.”

He argued that such a system “could lead to sanctioning the application of double standards and different treatment of individual EU member states.”

Morawiecki’s letter came after negotiators from the European Parliament and the German presidency of the EU this month reached an agreement on the rule of law mechanism for the bloc’s 2021-2027 budget, a push that has met with criticism from Poland and Hungary, Poland’s PAP news agency reported.

In December 2017, the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, took the unprecedented step of triggering Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland, stepping up pressure on Warsaw over contested judicial reforms.

Poland and Hungary have denied EU accusations of violating democratic principles and undermining the independence of their courts.

Most Poles are against the idea of linking access to EU funds to respect for the rule of law, a recent survey has found.



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