First in the EU: the 27 establish a link between aid and rule of law

Première dans l'UE: les 27 établissent un lien entre aides et État de droit

BRUSSELS | The EU leaders for the first time decided to condition the granting of european funding to the respect of democratic principles in the agreement on the measures to revive the economy, adopted on Tuesday during an extraordinary summit in Brussels, announced the chairman of the Board Charles Michel.

“This is the first time in the history of Europe that the budget is linked to the climate objectives and the respect of the rule of law for the grant funding,” he said during the press conference organised at the end of four days and four nights of difficult negotiations.

“The european Commission has proposed an instrument to take measures by qualified majority in cases of violations of the rule of law,” said the president of the institution, Ursula von der Leyen.

“A very clear commitment has been taken to protect the financial interests of the EU and stricter control of the european funds”, she added.

Hungary and Poland are in the sights of Brussels after the adoption of the measures being accused of undermining the legal standards and european democratic values.

Budapest and Warsaw under both under the procedure provided for by article 7 of the Treaty on european Union (TEU) which gives the possibility to the EU to sanction a member State which does not respect its founding values. But the decision must be taken unanimously, which neutralizes its reach.

It had been proposed prior to the summit to provide for the possibility to suspend or reduce eu funding for countries that do not comply with european values.

Poland and Hungary had threatened to veto any link between funding and the rule of law, but, in the course of the fourth night of negotiations, a draft agreement has emerged, said several sources.

According to the proposed mechanism, any suspension or possible reduction of european funds because of violations of the rule of law should be approved by a qualified majority of member States (55 % of EU countries representing 65% of the total population), which is more difficult to achieve than that advocated originally to the Commission.

The Hungarian media close to the government of prime minister Viktor Orban hailed the compromise as a “great victory”.

But a spokesman for German chancellor Angela Merkel did not want to confirm their assertion that she had promised to put an end to the procedure of article 7 during the presidency of the EU, assured by his country until the end of the year.

Viktor Orban said that he asked to “end the humiliation” of article 7. “The German presidency of the Council has agreed to move the process forward within the limits of its possibilities”, said the spokesperson of German government Steffen Seibert. “It is up to Hungary to take the initiative,” said the chancellor.

A veto Orban would have questioned all negotiations on the recovery plan, with a borrowing capacity of € 750 billion (1160 billion $), next to the future multi-annual EU budget for the period 2021-2027, the order of 1,074 billion euros (1660 billion $).

The opening of the procedure of article 7 against Poland dates back to December 2017. In September 2018, the same procedure has been opened against Hungary, this time at the initiative of the european Parliament. They are for the moment suspended future meetings.

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