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2nd Jul 2022

Von der Leyen tells Poland and Hungary to go to court

  • Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs it was 'very difficult to imagine' anybody in Europe could be against the principle of rule of law (Photo: European Parliament)

Poland and Hungary should ask the EU's top court to assess the planned rules on linking EU funds to the respect for the rule of law, instead of blocking the €1.8 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery package, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs on Wednesday (25 November).

Budapest and Warsaw last week blocked the adoption of the package, saying that the rule-of-law link could be used as political pressure arguing it was not in line with EU treaties.

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Von der Leyen told MEPs the new rules were about the violations of the rule of law that are threatening the EU budget, and "only that".

"It is very difficult to imagine anybody in Europe who would possibly have anything against that principle," she said.

"Anyone still in doubt has a clear path, they can go to the European Court of Justice and allow the new rules to be tested there," the German head of the EU executive said.

"That is the place where differences of opinion about legislative texts are usually settled and it is not done at the expense of millions and millions of European citizens who are urgently waiting for our help," she added.

Von der Leyen's comments came on the eve of a one-day visit of Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki to Budapest to coordinate with Hungary's PM Viktor Orban.

The German EU presidency is leading negotiations to bring Hungary and Poland onboard, after most member states and the majority of the European Parliament backed the rule-of-law link.

'Irresponsible'

On Wednesday, most political groups in the parliament supported the new mechanism, stressing MEPs' opposition to any changes to the negotiated compromise.

German MEP Manfred Weber, group leader of the centre-right European People's Party (where Hungary's ruling party, Fidesz is a member - albeit, currently suspended) called the blockade "irresponsible".

Weber pushed back against claims from Warsaw and Budapest that the tool would be used for political pressure.

"The idea that EU is trying to organise how abortions should be carried out in Poland is quite simply a lie," he said, in reference to recent Polish moves to ban almost all legal abortions.

Weber also echoed that if Hungary thinks the rule-of-law link infringes the EU treaties, it should go to the EU's top court.

Socialist group leader, MEP Iratxe Gacria, reiterated that the parliament will "not change a comma" in the agreement.

Liberal leader, Romanian MEP Dacian Ciolos, rebuked the Budapest government for its argument that the EU somehow resembles the former Soviet Union.

"Accusing the EU of being Soviet in its approach is ridiculous, particularly when you are behaving like a despot yourself, and you are waiting in line in front of the Kremlin for the first box of vaccines," Ciolos said, referring to the Hungarian decision to test and possibly manufacture the Russian coronavirus vaccine.

Only the far-right Identity and Democracy and the conservative European Conservatives and Reformists group - of which Poland's governing Law and Justice party is a member - as party groups backed Hungary and Poland's blockade.

MEP Marco Zanni from Italy's League argued that those not anticipating Hungary and Poland's block were responsible for the budget delay, saying they "continue to use the rules in a political manner to punish those who aren't line with a certain way of thinking".

Former Polish prime minister, MEP Beata Szydlo, said rule of law was doing well in Poland.

"This is an attempt by the majority to push through principles that are not in the treaties, and that EU has never discussed nor adopted," she argued.

Poland and Hungary are both under EU scrutiny for breaching European rules and values.

Deal reached on linking EU funds to rule of law

The deal means MEPs and the German EU presidency unblocked a major political hurdle to agreeing on the €1.8 trillion long-term EU budget and coronavirus recovery package.

German minister predicts rule-of-law solution in 'days'

German foreign minister Heiko Maas said the will be "able to take decisions" in the next few days on the budget and coronavirus recovery fund. Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki will travel to Budapest on Thursday.

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Bulgaria's target date for joining the eurozone, 1 January 2024, seems elusive. The collapse of Kiril Petkov's government, likely fresh elections, with populists trying to score cheap points against the 'diktat of the eurocrats', might well delay accession.

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