Today, the Plenary adopted a resolution against the conflict of interest of Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš in negotiating as head of government and at the same time in private massively profiting from EU funds. Greens in the region had helped investigations and Greens in the European Parliament had asked for this resolution. Babis is an example for a national government putting profits of those in power and their close friends over the rule of law and the general interest of citizens. To deal with this structural problem, just two hours before, the European Parliament’s committees for budgets (BUDG) and budgetary control (CONT) adopted a Commission proposal for financial sanctions against national governments violating European values.
BUDG and CONT want to further strengthen the instrument that the European Commission had proposed in parallel with the next EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework in May. Commission proposed the EU can apply sanctions when the independence of the judiciary is under pressure, there are incorrect public procurement procedures, and investigation and prosecution of fraud and corruption. Greens, Social-Democrats and Liberals successfully insisted on protecting all EU values with this instrument, not only the rule of law, as long as the attack of a government on values also infringes the financial interest of the EU.
Parliament’s draft position wants sanctions to apply without Council having to find a common position. To speed up the process, sanctions should apply if neither Parliament nor Council say no to a Commission proposal within a deadline of weeks. On Green initiative, Parliament’s committees also want the EU Commission to be assisted in the investigation by a new panel of independent experts in the field of constitutional law and financial affairs. The panel should screen the rule of law in all Member States annually and ring the alarm if necessary even if this disturbs Commissions negotiations with Member State governments.
When sanctions are applied, the government of a Member State remains obliged to honour promises to citizens, so that projects that have already been promised to the population can proceed and Erasmus students and researchers do not have to suffer from corruption in government. Missing from the broad pro-European compromise is the Green proposal to include the possibility of Commission to take over direct management of EU funds. In countries where few oligarchs take over politics, EU control over implementation would be the only hope for those more loyal to EU values than to those in power to receive EU support.
The European Parliament will discuss the instrument on financial sanctions to defend European values in the January plenary session. Parliament’s rapporteurs will then be given the mandate to start negotiations with the European ministers.
MEP Sven Giegold, financial and economic policy spokesperson of the Greens/EFA group and the European Parliament’s rapporteur on transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions commented:
“We need effective instruments to defend European values. The past has shown that appeals and warnings are not enough. Those who undermine European values must not benefit from EU funds. In order to protect European values, we must act preventively rather than reactively. We need a panel of experts to sound the alarm early enough. The experts should be elected by the national parliaments and the European Parliament. They must be independent of sensitivities that the EU Commission must take into account when dealing with national governments. Preventive action makes it easier to prevent dramatic situations such as those in Hungary and Poland.
Governments that take advantage of EU funds and attack European values at the same time, should be sanctioned financially. Otherwise, we risk supporting EU funds as a means of European solidarity. To be a credible deterrent against violations of European values, such sanctions must apply as proposed by Commission as long as no majority of Council or Parliament stops them.
Today’s resolution against the conflict of interest of Andrej Babiš is a wake up call to all governments negotiating for some digits behind the comma instead of facing the real problem of future EU budgets. The takeover of governments by the private interest of those in power, such as Andrej Babiš in Czech Republic need EU action to defend citizens against EU funds being siphoned away from them. Governments in Germany, France and other Member States may not become complicit but have to support possible sanctions in the defense of democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights. The EU Commission has to stop paying subsidies to Andrej Babiš’ Agrofert group as long as he did not resolve his conflict of interest.“