MEPs are threatening to trigger a legal procedure against the European Commission â€œwithin two weeksâ€ unless it implements a mechanism linking EU funding to rule-of-law guarantees, according to a draft resolution.
Late last year, European leaders backed a regulation allowing the bloc to cut off payments to a country if it fails to meet budgetary rule-of-law criteria. As part of a compromise intended to placate Hungary and Poland â€” who oppose the mechanism â€” leaders asked the European Commission to refrain from implementing the new regulation pending any challenges to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The court is now expected to rule on a challenge from Budapest and Warsaw this fall, at the earliest. Meanwhile, the Commission â€” which is set to present draft guidelines for implementing the conditionality mechanism later this month â€” has said the regulation could be triggered in the second half of this year.
But parliamentarians are not happy with the timeline.
On Friday, several MEPs said the leading political groups had agreed to vote on a text next week criticizing the Commission for failing to activate the new process â€” and asking Parliament President David Sassoli to call on the Commission to â€œfulfill its obligationsâ€ within â€œtwo weeks.â€
The parliamentarians also said they would begin preparations to possibly trigger a provision within the EU treaties that could result in Parliament taking the Commission to court for failing to implement the rule-of-law regulation.
â€œTo be prepared, the Parliament shall in the meantime immediately start the necessary preparations for potential court proceedings under Article 265 of TFEU against the Commission,â€ the draft resolution said.
Under this article, the Commission would have two months to respond to Parliamentâ€™s concerns, and the legislature would then have a further two months to take the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The Parliamentâ€™s latest move â€” which follows a March resolution threatening to trigger Article 265 if the Commission failed to take some steps by June 1 â€” is designed â€œto make very clear to the Commission that we mean business,â€ said Petri Sarvamaa, a Finnish MEP from the European Peopleâ€™s Party, Parliamentâ€™s largest group.
The Commission has insisted it is serious about the new mechanism.
â€œWe are intensively working towards the application of this conditionality regulation,â€ Commission Vice President VÄ›ra JourovÃ¡, who works on values and transparency issues, told reporters earlier this week.
â€œThe regulation is in force as of the 1st [of] January this year, so of course there are legitimate expectations that Commission will move towards the application of the conditionality,â€ she said, adding that the Commission will trigger the new mechanism after assessing which member states qualify.
â€œMy estimation is that we might trigger the process in the second half of this year,â€ she said.
Within the Commission, there is a sense that the Parliamentâ€™s latest resolution is more about politics than substance.
The new resolution is â€œa political game that the Parliament is entitled to do,â€ said one Commission official. â€œThereâ€™s little the Commission can do to meet the demands in a very short period of time.â€
But some MEPs say time is of the essence.
â€œThe EU Commission has so far not been serious about protecting the rule of law in Europe,â€ said German Green MEP Daniel Freund.
â€œThis cannot wait,â€ he said. â€œCommission President Ursula von der Leyen must now decide: Either she fights with us for the rule of law â€” or she gives in to pressure from Poland and Hungary and continues to do nothing.â€