Citizens often send messages to the President of the European Parliament (or to the institution’s public portal) expressing their views on current issues and/or requesting action from the Parliament. The Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (AskEP) within the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) looks into these issues and replies to the messages, which may sometimes be identical as part of wider public campaigns.
The President of the European Parliament has recently received a large number of messages urging the Parliament to take a strong stand in favour of the mechanism making the allocation of European Union (EU) funds conditional on the respect of the rule of law. In its conclusions of 11 December 2020, the European Council stated that the Commission should not launch procedures under the rule of law mechanism until the European Court of Justice has made a decision on whether to annul the instrument. Citizens first began to write to the President on this subject in December 2020. They expressed concerns about delays in the implementation of the rule of law mechanism and about the deterioration of human rights and the rule of law in Poland and Hungary. In its resolution on the rule of law, the European Parliament stressed that the European Council conclusions are ‘superfluous’. The agreement between the European Parliament and Council clearly states that it will apply from 1 January 2021.
Please find below the main points of the reply sent to citizens who took the time to write to the President of the European Parliament on this matter.
Main points made in the reply in English
On 16 December 2020, after the European Parliament gave its consent to the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), the President of the European Parliament David Maria Sassoli stated: ‘For the first time in the history of our Union we have ensured that the resources of the European budget are conditional on respect for the rule of law and democracy throughout Europe.’
Furthermore, on 17 December 2020, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the MFF, Rule of Law Conditionality and Own Resources. Parliament stresses that the 11 December European Council Conclusions, which state that the Commission should not apply the Rule of Law mechanism until the European Court of Justice has made a decision on whether to annul the instrument, are ‘superfluous’. The agreement between European Parliament and Council clearly states that it will apply from 1 January 2021. More information is available in this press release.
In a speech to the European Parliament plenary on 16 December 2020, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen also underlined that: ‘In essence, as I understand it, there is a fear that the application of the regulation will be delayed and that justice delayed might be justice denied. This will not happen. The regulation will apply from 1 January 2021 onwards. And any breach that occurs from that day onwards will be covered.’
As to the legislation on the rule of law mechanism specifically, on 16 December 2020 also, the European Parliament approved the regulation on the protection of the Union’s budget in case of generalised deficiencies as regards the rule of law in Member States.
The European Parliament tightened the regulation in the negotiations held with EU countries. For instance, the new law does not only apply when EU funds are misused directly, such as cases of corruption or fraud. It will also apply to systemic breaches of fundamental values that all EU countries must respect, such as democracy or the independence of the judiciary, when those breaches affect – or risk affecting – the management of EU funds. The European Parliament also succeeded in securing a specific provision that clarifies the possible scope of the breaches by listing examples of cases, such as threats to the independence of the judiciary, failure to correct arbitrary/unlawful decisions, and limiting legal remedies.
The European Parliament debate of 16 December 2020 on the Conclusions of the European Council, MFF, Rule of Law Conditionality and Own Resources is publicly available. More information on the rule of law mechanism is available in the EP press release, and in the Legislative Observatory and the Legislative Train databases. Moreover, the full text of the Council’s common position as negotiated and agreed by the European Parliament is available online
Specifically on Poland, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on 17 September 2020, on determination of a clear risk of a serious breach by Poland of the rule of law. Parliament expressed concerns regarding the legislative and electoral system, the independence of the judiciary, and fundamental rights in Poland. It strongly deplored both the ‘Polish Stonewall’ mass arrest and subsequent treatment of 48 LGBTI activists on 7 August 2020, and the Polish Episcopate’s official position in favour of ‘conversion therapy’. More information is available in this press release.
On Hungary, on 16 January 2020, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on ongoing hearings under Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union regarding Poland and Hungary. Parliament stated that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded. Parliament is concerned about breaches of the independence of the judiciary, freedom of expression, including media freedom, freedom of the arts and sciences, freedom of association and the right to equal treatment. Further information is available in this press release.
Finally, the rule of law is one of the fundamental values of the Union, enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. In this light, the European Commission published the 2020 Rule of Law Report on 30 September 2020. The report includes chapters on all EU countries including Poland and Hungary.