More than three out of four Europeans think that the EU should only distribute funds to member states that implement rule of law and democratic principles, according to a new survey commissioned by the European Parliament.
Only 12% of 24,812 respondents thought that linking funds to rule of law — which the survey described to include press freedom, independence of justice, fight against corruption and protection of individual rights — is a bad idea.
Interestingly, the share of people who agree with the rule of law conditionality is below the EU average in four out of the six countries that voted against Germany’s compromise proposal as being too watered down — the Frugal Four of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, joined by Belgium and Luxembourg.
Measured against 77% average agreement across the bloc, the idea enjoys less support in Sweden (72%), Netherlands (71%), Denmark (70%) and Belgium (70%).
Respondents from the main opposers of the idea, Hungary and Poland, broadly support the idea though below EU average levels, with 72% of participants agreeing with linking disbursement of EU funds to rule of law and democratic principles.
“If almost 80% of their citizens wish to condition the spending of the money they pay as taxes on the adherence of the governments to the rule of law, they [member states] should listen,” MEP Petri Sarvamaa (EPP), one of the Parliament’s negotiators, said in a statement.
Parliament stays promises to stand its ground
The Parliament had another round of political talks on the rule of law conditionality with the Council, representing the EU27, on Tuesday (20 October), but so far there is little hope for a breakthrough.
At the core of the deadlock between the EU’s co-legislators is the question of how the future sanctioning mechanism for rogue member states would work.
Germany’s proposal would require member states to assemble a qualified majority to trigger financial sanctions on one of their peers, while the Parliament wants to see a country having to build a qualified majority coalition to block the Commission’s decision to press ahead with cutting Union money.
One of the Parliament’s negotiators, MEP Daniel Freund, said he does not think the Council’s proposal is realistic “because in the history of the EU, we haven’t seen a sanction triggered by a qualified majority,” although a similar mechanism already exists, for example, in the bloc’s fiscal rulebook.
“We are not going to cave in as Parliament so if they [the Council] don’t move on that question. I don’t think we will approve the seven-year budget for now,” Freund told EURACTIV.
Sceptics say that MEPs will be soon coming under huge pressure from home to sign off on the recovery fund as the European economy, reeling from the pandemic, needs the fund agreed upon and disbursed as fast as possible.
Freund however, does not see signs of MEPs cracking, even in southern EU countries like Spain, which have been economically hardest-hit after the first wave of the pandemic.
“I think people might be underestimating how serious this is for the Parliament,” the green lawmaker from Germany said.
The stalemate is complicated by the need for each national parliament to approve the legal act that will allow the EU to borrow on the markets to pay for the recovery. Furthermore, Hungary and Poland are threatening to withhold consent if the rule of law negotiations result in an unsatisfactory outcome for them.
Freund thinks one possible scenario is for the Parliament and Council to strike a compromise deal that satisfies both, which would allow MEPs to approve the long-term budget. The ball to sign off on the budget and the additional €750 billion would then be in the court of the national parliaments.
“I think the pressure at that point would be so high, even on the Hungarian Parliament, that they will approve it,” Freund said.
After the talks, a German spokesperson said “negotiations are moving constructively forward, again some progress was made, differences narrowed further down.”
“Still some way to go until compromise is in reach. But mood music is one of cautious optimism.”
#RuleOfLaw: Productive 2nd trilogue on the conditionality mechanism. Negotiations are moving constructively forward, again some progress was made, differences narrowed further down. Still some way to go until compromise is in reach. But mood music is one of cautious optimism. pic.twitter.com/SwJhFB9bK2
— Sebastian Fischer (@SFischer_EU) October 20, 2020
Freund was less optimistic.
“Still no willingness of the Council to move on trigger and scope of the mechanism,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
Second #ruleoflaw Trilogue is history: Still no willingness of the Council to move on trigger and scope of the mechanism. You always have this weird feeling that #Orban somehow is sitting at the negotiating table.
— Daniel Freund (@daniel_freund) October 20, 2020
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]