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During a plenary debate on Monday, the German minister, Michael Roth, urged the European Parliament to support the Council’s position on the draft rule of law proposal it adopted last week.

In an effort to give a legal form to the compromise reached during the July EU summit, the German EU presidency (Berlin has taken over the presidency of the Council of the European Union for six months) put forward a proposal for a conditionality instrument that would cut or limit the access to EU’s financial resources when the rule of law breaches are “sufficiently serious” to undermine the proper management of the EU funds (including grants from the Recovery Fund) or pose a risk to the Union’s financial interests.

The Commission’s decision to stop the flow of EU money would require a qualified majority vote in the Council. Moreover, the proposal also mentions an “emergency brake” which gives the country facing a potential suspension of funds an option to appeal the decision and ask to discuss it at the next EU summit. The procedure, however, could not be halted for longer than three months.

- We have made a proposal here that the heads of state and government have come to an agreement on. What we're trying to achieve here is a functional instrument. And I believe it is because it really tries to tackle these shortfalls in respecting the rule of law. Already back in 2018, there was this initial link made with the budget. We didn’t make this up just now. I can only call on all of you to try and come to a tangible agreement as soon as possible, we need the EU institutions to reach a compromise – minister Roth defended the draft against allegations that the German presidency proposed a mechanism that only introduces an additional “anticorruption instrument” but fails to recognize general breaches of the principle of the rule of law beyond misappropriation of EU funds.

Main EU parliamentary groups: It’s not enough to defend the rule of law

- It’s not a rule of law mechanism, it’s a pseudo mechanism that could never be used in practice- urged Moritz Koerner, member of the “Renew Europe” group.

Daniel Freund, representing the Greens, also criticized the German proposal for „setting the bar too high”, i.e. doing away with the initial 2018 framework set up by the European Commission which talks of suspending payments almost automatically (unless at least 15 member countries representing at least 65% of the EU population decide to override it).

– The proposal, in its current form, is not enough for us – declared the chair of the center-left S&D group, Iratxe Garzia Perez, demanding that the proposal is expanded to include violations of all fundamental EU values, including media pluralism and gender equality.

Petri Sarvamaa, a member of the center-right European People’s Party, called for revamping the current draft and introducing a “functional” rule of law mechanism instead.

Law and Justice Party: It’s ideological repression

MEPs representing the ruling parties in Poland (Law and Justice) and Hungary (Fidesz) criticized Roth from a different angle.

– It is an unfair discussion about an alleged lack of the rule of law. A discussion about a regulatory project which has no legal basis and goes against the treaty. It’s about inventing a mechanism that would allow for ideological repression of countries who disagree with the European Commission – said Bogdan Rzońca.

Raising the issue of German reparations for WWII atrocities, Jadwiga Wiśniewska said that she’s „at the loss of words when the German presidency fails to stand by what it had agreed to” at the July EU summit.

Premierzy Polski i Węgier – wbrew interpretacjom innych uczestników - przekonywali po nim, że pomysł „pieniądze za praworządność” został zupełnie unieszkodliwiony. Tyle że wersja niemieckiej prezydencji nie została w zeszłym tygodniu poparta tylko przez Polskę i Węgry. A także przez – bliższą europarlamentowi i przeciwną zbytniemu rozwodnieniu projektu - „grupę przyjaciół praworządności”, czyli trzy kraje Beneluksu, Austrię, Szwecję, Finlandię oraz Danię.

After the summit, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban argued that no rule of law mechanism was even agreed upon. Yet, Poland and Hungary weren’t the only member states to reject the German draft proposal last week. A group of countries supporting the European Parliament’s position and rejecting a watered-down rule of law mechanism (the Benelux countries, Austria, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark) also vetoed the proposal.

During a different session in the European Parliament, Beata Kempa accused “EU bureaucrats” of trying to force Poland into accepting abortion, gender ideology and giving special rights to LGBT people.  

- The Christian part of Europe declines to consent to these conditions – Ms. Kempa said.

On the other hand, a member of the Greens, Sylwia Spurek, told the story of „a 12-year-old Polish girl who committed suicide after being bullied because of her sexual identity”.  Ms. Spurek criticized the Commission for its lack of decisive action to defend the rule of law in Poland.

Will Poland and Hungary block the Recovery Fund?

In theory, to be enacted, the draft “rule of law mechanism” needs the support of a qualified majority in the Council and a green light from the European Parliament. However, Poland and Hungary have already threatened to derail the vote by blocking the Union’s coronavirus Recovery Fund (EUR 750 bln, including EUR 390 bln in non-repayable grants) if the mechanism puts them at a disadvantage.

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