Two days after Orbán’s big election victory, the European Commission launched for the first time a new rule of law mechanism against Hungary to fight corruption.
“We will send the letter to the Hungarian government to formally notify them that we have launched the rule of law mechanism,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament. She pointed out that the Hungarian coronavirus recovery plan has not yet been approved, and therefore Budapest cannot receive funds from the European Union Next Generation Fund, due to the lack of anti-corruption reforms.
Dutch MP Sophie at ‘t Veld’ accused von der Leyen that the commission had to take action in last weekend’s election, which Viktor Orban convincingly won: “Do not shut the door until the horse is out of control.”
First, the Commission waited for the European Court of Justice ruling on the legal validity of the mechanism, then it took time to develop guidelines for its concrete application.
It seems very likely that von der Leyen did not want to give the Hungarian prime minister an extra excuse to attack the “Brussels bureaucrats” during the campaign – which he did anyway.
Less difficult for Poland
Under the new mechanism, the commission could propose sanctioning a member state by suspending payments from the budget or not approving programmes. In doing so, it must be able to demonstrate that violations of the rule of law have a negative impact on the proper financial management of European funds.
With this letter, the commission is taking the first step in a grueling procedure that can last for months. But while Poland and Hungary protect each other when implementing Article 7 of the EU treaty – which deals with the defense of European values - no member state can stop the commission’s sanctions proposal.
Von der Leyen hinted that Poland is not so afraid of the rule of law mechanism: “In Poland we have a problem with the independence of the judiciary.” It has made clear that the months-long talks are making progress.
Poland must act according to three criteria resulting from rulings of the European Court of Justice: the disciplinary chamber for judges must be abolished, the disciplinary system must be adapted and judges who have been unlawfully dismissed must be reinstated. “If the parliament in Warsaw passes a law that meets these criteria, it will be a milestone and the money from the recovery fund can be paid to Poland,” von der Leyen said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re close.”
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