Wednesday

20th Nov 2019

Visegrad Four 'nothing to hide' on rule of law issue

  • Rule of law 'conditionality', ie linking funds to respect for judicial independence, is proving to be one of the most controversial proposals in the new EU budget plans (Photo: snorski)

Visegrad countries are not afraid of discussing the European Commission's controversial rule of law conditionality proposal in the next long-term EU budget, Hungary's state secretary said.

"We, in Hungary and in all three other V4 [Visegrad] countries, we certainly believe that safeguarding the rule of law is of key importance. At the same time, central Europe should not be afraid of that, we have no reasons to fear on debates on rule of law or the budget," state secretary of EU affairs Szabolcs Takacs told reporters on Thursday (24 May) in Brussels.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

"We look forward to such debates, we don't have anything to hide, we have no fear to do that," he added after a conference on the EU budget.

Hungary holds the rotating presidency of the Visegrad Four, a loose cooperation of the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.

The EU executive in its 2 May proposal on the next long-term EU budget outlined controversial plans for linking the distribution of EU funds to the well-functioning of justice systems.

Poland and Hungary, which have had rule of law run-ins with the commission, feel targeted by the proposal and question the plan's legal basis.

Takacs said Hungary needs to analyse if the proposal complies with the EU treaty and whether it is equally applicable to all member states.

He said Hungary had some legal concerns that the commission might be trying to create new 'competencies', that is, centralised powers for Brussels.

"Everybody has to respect the rule of law, not only the member states, but also the institutions, the European Commission and the European Parliament as well," he added.

Takacs added that Hungary is the one of the "most audited countries" and that Budapest has "proof" that its justice system is in order.

Peter Javorcik, Slovakia's ambassador to the EU said at the same event that - as a principle - Bratislava has no problem with rule of law as a condition for the implementation of EU funds, adding it has to apply to all EU funds and all countries.

'Think twice'

Justice commissioner Vera Jourova last week told EUobserver that member states should think twice about whether the rule of law conditionality is something they, particularly Hungary and Poland – where government action had raised rule of law concerns in the commission - will refuse to guarantee.

"If I want to get the EU money I have to guarantee that there will be the court which will deal with fraud and corruption. I think if some country says we cannot guarantee it, then we have a problem and this is what I will try to explain again and again in Poland, in Hungary, in whatever member state," Jourova said.

"I will do my best to convince the member states to agree with it because this is important, this is not about EU money only, it is about trust of the taxpayer and about some fairness in the system about the division of obligations and rights," she added.

Poland has been at the forefront of accusing the commission of overreaching its competencies, calling the proposal a "massive power grab".

Hungary has said the proposal's legal base is questionable and the conditions for triggering the suspension of EU funds is too vague.

According to the commission's proposal the EU executive could launch the procedure if it detects "generalised defences" in the member states' judiciary that would impact the use of EU funds.

"Generalised deficiencies" could mean national authorities not following up damning reports by the EU's anti-fraud agency, Olaf, or judges systematically being biased, or judgements not being enforced in practice.

The commission would have the power to suspend EU funds if the member state does not address these problems, and the council - the body of member states - could only stop it with a qualified majority.

Officials from Belgium, Germany, France, Sweden, however expressed support for the new instrument last week.

The commission launched the so-called Article 7 sanctions procedure against Poland last year for threatening the independence of its judiciary.

While Hungary has settled its earlier rule of law issues with the commission, the European Parliament's civil liberties committee in a draft report proposes launching the Article 7 process, which in theory can lead to the suspension of the voting rights of a member states.

The European Parliament's budget control committee last month said in its opinion that the "current level of corruption, the lack of transparency and accountability of public finances, and the ineligible expenditure or overpricing of the financed projects affects union funds in Hungary", and supported the call for launching the Article 7 procedure.

No member states has been sanctioned before under Article 7. Indeed, the EU has been reluctant to use any sanctions in its toolbox against member states, other than the so-called infringement procedures for specific breached of EU rules.

Commenting on the rule of law conditionality Zsolt Darvas, a senior fellow at the Brussels-based Bruegel Institute pointed out last week to an audience at the European Economic and Social Committee that while the proposed conditionality makes sense, the commission has not used its numbers-based economics sanctions either, for instance for macroeconomic imbalances in member states, arguing a more political tool might be even more difficult to put into use.

Poland, Hungary push back at EU budget 'conditionality'

EU affairs ministers held their first discussion on the Commission's long-term post-Brexit budget plans - with cohesion and agriculture cuts, phasing put rebates, and the overall size emerging as major divisions.

Tying EU funds to politics could be double-edged

EU taxpayer money to countries challenging EU core values? The answer might seem obvious, but not to those on the receiving end of the EU subsidies, who argue that most of the money trickles back.

Opinion

Slovakia - from black hole to neutron star

Slovakia is about to take up a one-year stint as president of the Visegrad Four, with a determination to anchor Central Europe in "Jadro Europy" - the core of Europe.

Magazine

Welcome to the EU engine room

Welcome to the EU engine room: the European Parliament (EP's) 22 committees, which churn out hundreds of new laws and non-binding reports each year and which keep an eye on other European institutions.

Column

Why the EU can't do security and defence

What if the EU can't guarantee European security? In times when US physical presence does not make up for its mental absence, the question got urgent.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us