Sven Giegold

Groundbreaking decision of the EU Parliament: Sanctions to defend democracy and the rule of law in the member states

Today at noon, the European Parliament has adopted a new instrument to defend democracy and the rule of law in the Member States. Those who undermine systematically the rule of law shall no longer benefit from EU funds. A broad pro-European majority (397 yes vs 150 no) of Christian-Democrats, Social-Democrats, Liberals and Greens supported the text as already adopted by the European Parliament’s committees on Budget (BUDG) and Budgetary Control (CONT) in December.


The parliament’s decision is aimed at authoritarian governments that mix public funds, including EU funds, with the private interests of those in power and their supporters, whether in Hungary, Romania or the Czech Republic. Parliament wants to further strengthen this rule of law instrument that the European Commission had proposed at the same time as the EU’s next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) in May 2018. (For details of the Commission’s proposal and Parliament’s decision: see below.)


This decision is the mandate for Parliament’s rapporteurs for negotiations with European ministers. Negotiations can start as soon as the Council reaches a common position.


Sven Giegold, shadow rapporteur for the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament’s BUDG committee, who is also the European Parliament’s rapporteur on transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions, comments:


“The EU must firmly defend democracy. We must use our financial levers to prevent attacks on democracy and the rule of law. Those who undermine European values must not benefit from EU funds. The existing sanctions only take effect when it is too late. The panel of experts called for by Parliament today, which is sounding the alarm publicly in due time, is an important green success for timely action. The panel is to review the rule of law in all Member States annually and sound the alarm if necessary. The panel’s experts should be elected by the national parliaments and the European Parliament. They must be independent of diplomatic practices which the EU Commission must take into account in its daily dealings with national governments. Preventive action makes it easier to prevent dramatic situations such as those in Hungary and Poland.


Governments that make use of EU funds while systematically violating European values must be sanctioned financially. Otherwise we risk the support of EU citizens for EU funds as a means of European solidarity. In order to credibly discourage attacks on European values, sanctions proposed by the Commission must apply as long as they are not held up by a majority in the Council or Parliament.


Parliament’s decision is a wake-up call to the national government negotiators who are fighting over odds and ends for the next Multiannual Financial Framework rather than facing the real problem of the EU budget. There are serious problems under Christian Democrat Viktor Orban in Hungary, Social Democrat Liviu Dragnea in Romania and Liberal Andrej Babiš in the Czech Republic. The authoritarian governments in Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic are mixing attacks on democracy and the rule of law with the use of public resources and EU funds for the private interests of those in power and their supporters. The EU must protect its citizens from EU funds meant for the common good disappearing in other channels. Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and the other heads of state and government must not be complicit by inaction, but must support the sanctions instrument to defend democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights.”


the decision of BUDG and CONT put to the vote in plenary:


Commission’s proposal

The Commission has proposed that the EU can apply sanctions when the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are under pressure, there are incorrect procurement procedures, or fraud and corruption are not sufficiently investigated and prosecuted. Sanctions should protect European values and the proper use of EU funds.


European Parliament’s position

Greens, Socialists and Liberals have successfully insisted for the instrument to protect all European core values, not just the rule of law, as long as a government’s attacks on core values also violate the EU’s financial interest.

Parliament calls for sanctions to be applied, even without the Council having to find a common position beforehand. In order to speed up the procedure, sanctions should be imposed if neither Parliament nor the Council delays the Commission proposal within a few weeks.

On the initiative of the Greens, the European Parliament also wants the European Commission to be assisted in its investigation by a new panel of independent experts in the field of constitutional law and finance. The panel will review the rule of law in all Member States annually and, if necessary, sound the alarm even where the Commission’s negotiations with Member State governments could be affected.

In imposing sanctions, the government of a Member State remains obliged to keep promises to citizens so that projects already promised can continue and Erasmus students and researchers do not suffer from their government’s corruption.

The broad pro-European compromise failed to include the Greens’ proposal to allow the Commission to take over direct management of EU funds. In countries where few oligarchs dominate politics, direct EU implementation would be the only hope to obtain EU funds for all of those who are more loyal to European values than to those in power. The Greens had put this proposal of the EU Commission taking over the management of individual funds to the vote in a plenary amendment. However, the other groups did not support the amendment.

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