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4th Dec 2020

'Big majority' of citizens want EU funds linked to rule of law

  • MEP Petri Sarvamaa is leading the parliament's team on the rule of law file (Photo: European Parliament)

Almost 80 percent of European citizens agree that the distribution of EU funds should be linked to respect for the rule of law and democratic principles, according to a survey published on Tuesday (20 October).

The poll, commissioned by the European Parliament, comes as MEPs had another round of talks with diplomats from the German EU presidency over key legislation on how such a link would work.

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36 percent of respondents agreed completely with the statement that the "EU should only provide funds to member states conditional upon their government's implementation of the rule of law and democratic principles", while 41 percent "tend to agree".

Only nine percent "tend to disagree" and three percent disagreed totally.

The survey attached this explanation to the question: "To be a part to the EU, member states agree to share and respect common values, including rule of law, which includes press freedom, independence of justice, fight against corruption, protection of individual rights".

In Hungary, 36 percent totally agree and another 36 percent tended to agree, with a total of 18 percent disagreeing on some level.

In Poland, numbers are similar, with 72 percent agreeing, and 16 percent disagreeing. The two countries are under an EU probe for breaching EU rules and values.

Among countries where governments are pushing for a strong rule-of-law conditionality, 71 percent of Dutch, 79 percent of Finnish, 70 percent of Belgians, 72 of Swedes, 84 percent of Luxembourgish agreed.

70 percent of Danes also agree with rule of law conditionality, although 20 percent said they did not know.

The lowest support for the rule of law conditionality was polled in the Czech Republic, where 59 percent agree with the new tool.

However, on Tuesday negotiators made little progress on the file.

MEPs want a broader scope for triggering a suspension of EU funds, not only fraud and corruption cases as currently suggested. They also want measures to be more automatic, rather than only beginning once they have the backing of a qualified majority of member states.

The German presidency is overseeing a difficult, delicate balancing act in the council of member states.Hungary and Poland staunchly reject the parliament's demands while other member states, such as the Netherlands, are hoping MEPs can ramp up the mechanism.

"Still no willingness of the council to move on trigger and scope of the mechanism. You always have this weird feeling that [Hungarian PM Viktor] Orban somehow is sitting at the negotiating table," Green MEP Daniel Freund, part of the parliament's negotiating team, tweeted after Tuesday's meeting.

A spokesman for the German EU presidency said that "some progress was made, differences narrowed further down".

'Frugal Four' different priorities

The parliament's survey also showed Europeans want more EU spending on health and economic recovery.

Some 54 percent of respondents said the EU should have greater financial means to be able to overcome the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A larger budget is most supported in Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Malta, Portugal and Italy.

The majority in the so-called 'Frugal Four' countries whose governments argued for a smaller EU budget (Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland) want less EU spending capacity.

Public health, economic recovery, climate change, employment and social affairs are the top spending priorities for respondents - with digital infrastructure coming last.

Exactly 40 percent of respondents said the Covid-19 crisis had already impacted their personal income, and a further 27 percent expect such an impact.

Most affected were respondents in Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary, while in Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden respondents felt less affected.

Respondents in Estonia, Latvia and the Czech Republic want the EU budget to be spent on the economic recovery, while in Croatia, Slovakia and Finland, employment and social affairs are the priority.

A majority of respondents also said the EU should have more competences to deal with the pandemic.

Health and border measures are in member states' competences, making a coordinated response slow and cumbersome.

Kantar agency conducted the online survey with almost 25,000 citizens between the ages of 16-64, (and up to 54 in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia).

Germany asks capitals to give a little in EU budget impasse

European Parliament negotiators are demanding €39bn in new funding for EU programmes such as Horizon research and Erasmus, in talks with the German EU presidency on the budget. Meanwhile, rule-of-law enforcement negotiations have only just begun.

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.

EU leaders face major clash on rule of law budget link

One major issue dividing member states in the ongoing budget negotiations is inserting a direct link between EU subsidies and the rule of law. While the biggest battle will be over figures, the rule of law conditionality also creates tension.

Deal in reach on linking EU funds to rule of law

Much still depends on if the German EU presidency is willing to sign up to a strict time limit for member states to decide on possible sanctions in the new rule-of-law conditionality.

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