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28th May 2022

Justice commissioner links EU funds to 'rule of law'

  • EU justice commissioner Jourova in Finland: "The judiciary cannot be ignorant to the will of elected law makers." (Photo: European Commission)

EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova said Tuesday that the EU should consider creating stronger conditionality between the rule of law and the EU cohesion funds geared toward poorer member states.

The Czech commissioner in a speech in Helsinki outlined how the EU executive could better uphold the rule of law across the European Union.

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"[...] We need to make better use of EU funds for upholding the rule of law. [...] In my personal view we should consider creating stronger conditionality between the rule of law and the cohesion funds," Jourova said in Helsinki.

Jourova's speech in Finland appeared to be directed partly towards Poland and Hungary.

She recalled that in an earlier paper by the Commission in preparation for talks on the next seven-year EU budget, due to kick off next May, the executive said that upholding EU core values when developing and implementing EU policies is key, and that there is a clear relationship between the rule of law and an efficient implementation of the private and public investments supported by the EU budget.

Jourova argued that "there will be no efficient regional and cohesion policy without the rule of law, because the corruption and fraud will leave their marks".

Tying EU funds to rule of law issues, or political conditions has been a controversial issue, but is one that keeps popping up as discussions over the next EU budget cycle are approaching.

Some net contributors to the EU budget have been arguing introducing such conditions that would help uphold the respect for common rules.

Hungary and Poland

Concerns have been raised especially after governments in Hungary and Poland refused to accept asylum seekers under an EU scheme and have challenged the rule of law in their own country.

"The EU is not a project where we can pick and choose among the rules and obligations that apply. Nor is the EU a cash dispenser doling out money with no strings attached," Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven said recently in a speech about Europe.

Recipients of the EU's cohesion funds – designed to help the economic convergence of poorer areas – argue that it is counterproductive and against the treaty to tie EU funds to political conditions.

The EU Commission has launched a rule of law probe on the Warsaw government the first time in its history, and the executive has been struggling to tackle Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban's autocratic tendencies.

'Chain of Christmas lights'

Jourova attempted to unpick the arguments often used by Warsaw and Budapest against what they see as EU interference in the national judicial system.

She argued that the rule of law is not only a national competence, because national courts have to uphold EU law. "This means that if one national system of judiciary is broken, the EU system is broken," she said.

"The judicial system in the EU is like a chain of Christmas lights. When one light goes off, others don't light up and the chain is dark," she added.

Jourova also added that while the majority have the right to rule in a democracy, the rule of law ensures that the majority's power does not go unchecked.

"The essence of democracy is that the minorities know and trust that the law will protect them from the changes that go beyond certain limits," she said, adding: "In democracy, you cannot try to dismantle the judiciary, because you won the elections."

Jourova also said in her speech that she would be in favour of an event to discuss how best uphold the rule of law in the EU.

The EU has been struggling for years to tackle rule of law challenges, with several ideas floated in Brussels - from a special committee checking member states' rule of law, to stronger Commission oversight, to the use of the Article 7 that could eventually suspend the voting rights of an EU country.

So far, EU countries have been reluctant to sanction one another over rule of law issues.

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