Hungary and Poland in the crosshairs as Jourová threatens rule-of-law financial sanctions later this year

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Talking to journalists in Luxembourg, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová has signaled that a decision regarding an official guidance for the interpretation of law-and-order proceedings is expected by the end of summer or the beginning of autumn.

As Remix News reported earlier, according to a compromise agreement between the European Commission and the Hungarian government, the distribution of European development funds cannot be tied to political criteria. However, according to signals coming from Jourová and other European Commission representatives, the Commission is intent on circumventing this principle in order to use EU finances to put political pressure on defiant member states.

Worryingly for EU nations that aim to keep parts of their legal system independent of EU interference, the statement came in the context of the launch of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). Hungary, Poland, Denmark, and Ireland have all opted out from joining the EPPO that will oversee investigations of any possible misuse of EU funds, yet there are signs that refusing to join this institution will not protect them from being subject to their investigations or even judgments.

Hungary and Poland were singled out for criticism for not joining the prosecutor’s office, and as Commissioner Didier Reynders has made it clear, countries that have refused to join should realize that the protection of the EU’s budget is their responsibility too, and therefore even though they have opted out, they are also required to co-operate with the EPPO.

If the European Court of Justice (ECJ), were to rule in the autumn that the distribution of EU recovery and development funds should not only be affected by a possible misuse of EU money but can also be tied with political infringements and violations against democratic standards, then this could open the gates to a serious centralized political interference from Brussels, calling into question the future role of national parliamentary democracies. Hungary and Poland have never questioned the authority of European investigative bodies such as The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) in matters of financial or criminal investigations regarding the allocation and spending of European funds and have in the past fully co-operated during such investigations.

The fact that the warning coming from Jourová had coincided with the launch of EPPO strengthens the impression that the new prosecution body will be used as a backdoor for political interference from Brussels that is currently dominated by left-wing and liberal parties. Yet, it was also a clear signal towards the European Parliament, whose own ultimatum towards the Commission for activating the rule of law mechanism has expired on June 1. According to this, the European Commission was supposed to outline its guidance regarding the application of Article 7 rule-of-law proceedings against member states that are found to be in violation of EU treaties. However, the Commission’s hands are tied until the ruling of the ECJ that will decide whether transgressions against the political ethos of EU institutions can or cannot be a legal basis for the initiation of punitive proceedings against member states resulting in the withdrawal of financial resources.

In its current form, left-wing and liberal political forces form a strong majority in the European Parliament. Their eagerness to use the rule-of-law mechanism against their political opponents with whom they do not see eye to eye in fundamental questions such as migration, freedom of speech, and in the independence of judiciary, explains why Jourová and Reynders have used the launch of EPPO to send out a message of looming sanctions towards conservative governments. In the past, MEPs have threatened to sue the Commission if its guidance is not published in time and in order to speed the process up, the question will likely dominate next week’s plenary session in Strasbourg.

Earlier in the month Gert-Jan Koopman, the Commission’s director general for budget, has asked MEPs for their patience, stressing that the Commission cannot afford to make mistakes in crucial questions such as the rule-of-law mechanism. Among the most vocal MEPs demanding the introduction of the new rule-of-law mechanism was Katalin Cseh, member of the Hungarian far-left political party Momentum, who is known for her relentless attacks against the conservative government of Viktor Orbán.

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