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23rd Jan 2021

Massive MEP majority for better rule-of-law mechanism

  • Liberal Slovak MEP Michal Simecka making his case for the proposal - pointing out in his youth the EU stood for democracy to those living in communist and socialist states (Photo: European Parliament)

MEPs voted by an overwhelming majority on Wednesday (7 October) for an initiative to better protect democracies in member states.

The proposal , put together by Slovak liberal MEP Michal Simecka, called for a mechanism combining several EU tools that monitor the respect of rule of law and European values - as the bloc struggles to discipline governments that break EU rules.

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MEPs voted for the new mechanism by 521 votes to 152, with 21 abstentions.

MEPs from the far-right Identity and Democracy group (ID), plus the majority of MEPs in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) - home to Poland's much-criticised ruling Law and Justice party - and all legislators from Hungary's ruling Fidesz party, backed by two Slovenian MEPs, both from the European People's Party (EPP), voted against the proposal.

The new mechanism takes inspiration from the European semester that is aimed at streamlining the economic policies of EU countries and sanction those that brake common rules.

The so-called Annual Monitoring Cycle on Union values would also contain country-specific recommendations, with timelines and targets for implementation.

Failure to implement the recommendations would lead to sanctions, such as launching an Article 7 procedure, different EU probes, or suspension of EU funds - but only if negotiators on the issue in a separate track of budget negotiations come to an agreement.

One of the goals of the new mechanism would be to streamline different existing EU tools - such as the rule of law framework, or annual rule of law review - which had been struggling to cope in attempts to better discipline governments after Hungary and Poland repeatedly broke EU rules.

It would also replace the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), a judicial reform programme designed for Romania and Bulgaria.

Another aim of the proposal is to widen the scope of scrutiny to all values in the EU treaty, including human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, respect for human rights, minority rights.

The proposal envisions a so-called inter-instituional agreement between the parliament, the council of member states and the EU Commission, and calls for the immediate start of negotiations - which will mostly depend on the German EU presidency.

During the debate on the proposal on Monday, Simecka said the discussion is really about "the very future identity of the EU as democratic peace project".

"I grew up in Slovakia in the years after the 'Velvet Revolution' and for people of my generation, membership in the EU basically meant a guarantee of life in freedom and democracy," the liberal MEP said.

"But the problem is that this image of my youth of the EU as a guardian of democracy is now being shattered, and instead, it has developed an unacceptably high tolerance for authoritarian politics," he said, adding that with his new mechanism the EU would be in a better position.

Opponents of the proposal claimed it is a tool for political attacks.

"The aim is clearly to continue to blackmail governments that pursue ideologies they do not like under the pretence of rule of law," Fidesz MEP Balazs Hidveghi said, aiming his criticism at what he called parliament's "leftwing majority".

Rare majority

However, the large majority of MEPs voting for the proposal is another sign of rare unity in the European Parliament on a more effective rule of law monitoring. And MEPs have dug their heels in during ongoing negotiations with the German EU presidency on linking EU funds to rule of law.

The text adopted by MEPs on Wednesday say it "regrets" that EU leaders weakened the budgetary condition at their summit in July .

MEPs also said action should be taken against rule-breaking member states with a reversed qualified majority of member states. That means it would take a majority of countries to stop suspending funds in another country if rules or values there are breached.

The current proposal calls for a qualified majority of member states to decide on sanctions. Negotiators will meet on Thursday for another round of discussions.

EU Parliament sticks to demands in budget tussle

The parliament wants €38.5bn extra for key programmes, which is less than their previous request of around €100bn. Negotiations continue on Thursday, but the budget and recovery could still get stuck on the rule-of-law issue.

EU Parliament considers streamlining rule-of-law tools

As the EU struggles to stop breaches of rule-of-law, and democratic backsliding, in some member states, the European Parliament plans to propose one single overarching tool to effectively monitor rogue capitals.

EU countries stuck on rule of law-budget link

Divisions among EU governments remain between those who want to suspend EU funds if rule of law is not respected, and those who want to narrow down conditionality.

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