The European Commission faces a tight deadline to present its rule of law guidelines following the European Parliament’s move to hurry along the application of the regulation that ties the disbursement of bloc funds to the rule of law situation in EU countries.
On Thursday (25 March), MEPs are set to give the European executive until 1 June to come up with the guidelines on triggering the sanctions mechanism of the so-called rule of law budget conditionality, promising to take the Commission to court if their demands are not fulfilled.
The mechanism posed a major hurdle in the wider negotiations on the bloc’s historic €1.8 trillion budget at the end of last year.
The compromise hammered out by the European leaders, under which Hungary and Poland agreed to unblock the budget, included a provision that the European Court of Justice, the bloc’s highest court, must first rule on whether the mechanism falls foul of EU treaties.
Poland and Hungary launched their cases at the beginning of March, and the European Parliament has promised to ask the judges in Luxembourg to follow an expedited procedure to speed the process along.
However, December’s compromise deal also included a controversial promise by the Commission that it would not activate the procedure against any country until it had put guidelines in place governing its use. The EU executive has since said it will wait for the outcome of the court case concerning the regulation.
Under the treaties, the Commission is independent both from the Council, representing the EU27, and the European Parliament, and “shall neither seek nor take instructions from any government”.
The Parliament maintains that nothing in the conditionality legislation necessitates the guidelines, but “if the Commission deems such guidelines necessary, they are to be adopted as soon as possible”.
The Parliament also said it will consider any delay in guidelines beyond 1 June “a failure to act” and, in a highly unusual move in inter-institutional relations, promised to otherwise take the executive to court.
However, facing the tight deadline, the Commission may find itself between a rock and a hard place to deliver on its promises, since even under the expedite procedure, the dates of deliveries of judgments in the ECJ are highly uncertain.
Asked by EURACTIV what the expected delivery date of judgement would be, a Court spokesperson said “there is no hard and fast rule concerning the time such a procedure would take” and refrained from “second-guessing the Court and its actions.”
Meanwhile, more pressure to move on the rule of law conditionality may be coming from member states themselves.
On Wednesday (24 March) Dutch MPs (Social Liberal & Christian Democratic party) requested the government to demand that the European Commission activates rule of law conditionality mechanism against Poland due to prosecution of judges in the biggest Eastern member country.
Ahead of tomorrow’s vote on the 🇪🇺@Europarl_EN resolution on the same topic, the 🇳🇱Dutch parliament adopts a motion calling on @EU_Commission to trigger the #RuleOfLaw conditionality mechanism 👍⚖️ @moritzkoerner @MSimecka @katka_cseh @jpaternotte @vonderleyen @RenewEurope @D66 https://t.co/SrKWClYlU2
— Sophie in 't Veld (@SophieintVeld) March 24, 2021
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]