In an escalation of the acrimonious fight over respect for the EU’s laws and principles, Brussels is prepared to halt funds to Hungary and Poland.
According to reports, the European Commission is working on measures to implement new conditionality regulations that tie EU cash handouts to good behaviour.
The battleground is Budapest and Warsaw, but eurocrats are also looking into many other member states where the rule of law transgressions could jeopardise the use of EU funding.
Officials expect the first public warnings will be issued within weeks as a result of rising pressure from the European Parliament to act.
The new restrictions were the subject of tense negotiations late last year, with Poland and Hungary threatening to block the EU’s seven-year budget, which included the £689 billion coronavirus recovery fund.
MEPs have been putting increasing pressure on the Commission to use the new system to prosecute accused rule-breakers. The adoption of Poland’s and Hungary’s Covid expenditure plans has been postponed while officials consider what action to take against them.
Warsaw’s approach might be approved as early as November, according to Eurocrats, but only if its eurosceptic administration agrees to legally binding measures to restore the rule of law.
This would allow the EU to provide Poland with over £21 billion in non-repayable payments to aid its economic recovery following the pandemic.
Top eurocrats, on the other hand, are fearful of any potential retaliation hurting the bloc’s image in Poland.
“Whatever I do in Poland, I have in mind that at least half of the population is is in favour of EU values,” Commission vice-president Vera Jourova told the Politico news website.
She stated unequivocally that Brussels does not intend to punish Polish citizens for the acts of Warsaw’s right-wing administration.
“Brussels did not create this dilemma,” he stressed.
“It’s a domestic production for domestic political purposes,” says the narrator.”
“The preparations to trigger the rule of law conditionality are too advanced for us not to use them,” Ms Jourova added.
The train is moving at a high rate and is unable to be stopped.”
The Commission is expected to initiate the steps before the EU Parliament’s budgetary control committee meets on October 25.
Due to a requirement that requires unanimous consent from member states, previous attempts to punish Poland and Hungary using EU Article 7 sanctions have failed.
This effectively allows the two rogue states to defend one another.
“The Commission has new tools when it comes to protecting the EU budget and the rule of law, and it’s important we use them – we have to be credible,” Ms Jourova told the Financial Times.
She went on to say, “We are determined to use the new conditionality measures where we see fit,” referring to earlier failures to contest suspected rule-of-law violations.
Separately, the Commission has sought the European Court of Justice to impose a punishment on Poland for failing to comply with a court decision to terminate the country’s contentious judicial changes. Warsaw is also defying a European Court of Justice order to pay £430,000 in fines for failing to comply with a ruling calling for the halt of coal mining.