The Brief, powered by Martens Centre – A classic of its kind

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The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter [Photo: EFE-EPA]

As compromises go, the deal brokered between MEPs on linking the disbursement of EU funds to the rule of law back is a classic of the kind that Brussels specializes in.

The EU’s unprecedented €750 billion recovery fund to support national economic recoveries from the COVID-19 pandemic is closer to being released – the ball is now in the court of national parliaments who will have to sign off on the law establishing the fund – but it is still hard to see how governments will be sanctioned for rule of law breaches any time soon.

Long frustrated by the lack of urgency among EU leaders to push forward with the Article 7 procedures against Poland and Hungary for alleged rule of law breaches, the European Parliament saw the recovery fund as their best chance of getting rule of law conditions into law.

This kind of political opportunism – seizing an unlikely opportunity to bend the other EU institutions to their will – has been a hallmark of the Parliament ever since its creation.

Now they have something. The so-called ‘emergency break’ is not the strongest instrument in the world but, unlike Article 7, it at least codifies a list of rule of law breaches that could trigger the sanctions process. That marks a line in the sand.

In truth, that is as much as could have been expected. The European economy has been battered by the pandemic: businesses and employees across the bloc are reliant on the €750 billion recovery fund being agreed upon and dispersed immediately. Blocking the flow of cash would have done little for the Parliament’s reputation.

The tap of funds needs to be turned on, and quickly. On Thursday, the Bank of England announced it would pump in an addition £150 billion of new money into the UK economy, as the government announced that its plethora of new multi-billion pound support schemes for businesses and employees will be maintained until next March at the earliest.

The need for emergency cash is just as urgent across the EU. The second wave of the pandemic is upon us and so, too, is the prospect of a double-dip recession across much of the EU.

But if the rule of law debate is to break away from its present stasis, the next priority for EU leaders is how to strip out the legal jargon from the rule of law debate and make it accessible to the man and woman in the street.

So far, there seems to be little willingness on part of the EU’s ‘old democracies’ to have a genuine conversation about rule of law problems at home and abroad and explain why it matters. Until that change, MEPs can do their best but this debate is not going to go anywhere.

 


A message from the Martens Centre: Can Digital Make Europe Great Again? Turning the Single Market into a Global Technology Hub. Michał Boni, Pablo Arias Echeverría MEP, Konstantinos Kyranakis, Michael Pantelides, and David Wheeldon pondered on how Europe can catch up in the global digital race in last Wednesday’s panel at EIF. Be sure to (re)watch it here.


The Roundup

The European Parliament and the Council representing the EU27 reached a preliminary deal on linking the disbursement of EU funds to the rule of law after five rounds of talks, clearing a major hurdle in the wider negotiations on the bloc’s budget.

The head of an international observer mission to the US elections criticised on Wednesday President Trump’s allegations of fraud in the election, and expressed concern over attempts by his campaign to stop vote counting, saying it “undermined public trust” in democracy.

The European Commission revised downwards its expectations about the European recovery as the impact of the second wave of COVID-19, and the uncertainty about how it will evolve further, will weigh on the fragile economies.

The German EU Council presidency is seeking to permit the processing of metadata in online communications for ‘monitoring epidemics’ or to help in ‘natural or man-made disasters,’ according to a leaked text on the ePrivacy regulation obtained by EURACTIV.

Companies in Germany will be able to use the so-called Nutri-Score as of Friday (6 November) despite it having been a controversial matter for some time and disputed by some member states.

Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaçi resigned with immediate effect on Thursday (5 November) after learning that the Kosovo war crimes tribunal had confirmed his indictment for war crimes.

European doctors are urging the EU to up the share of the recovery fund earmarked for health, stressing that it will not be possible to strengthen health security and adequately prepare for future health crises with a reduced health budget.

Large-scale geothermal energy has long been constrained to volcanic areas where heat can easily be captured and turned into electricity. Today, breakthroughs in drilling techniques are opening new horizons for the technology, offering the prospect of “geothermal anywhere”.

 

Look out for…

  • US election result?

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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