European values are not for sale

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Manfred Weber is chairman of the European People’s Party Group in the European Parliament. Iratxe García Pérez is president of the S&D Group. Dacian Cioloș is president of the Renew Europe Group. Ska Keller and Philippe Lamberts are co-presidents of Greens/European Free Alliance Group. 

When European leaders finally came to a compromise on the EU’s budget and recovery plan this summer, the agreement was heralded as a breakthrough moment.

Since then, however, discussions have stalled, held hostage by national governments who oppose efforts to link the distribution of funds to adherence to the rule of law.

As leaders of the four largest political groups in the European Parliament, we urge the European Council of the EU and the European Commission to stand by the commitments it made over the summer — specifically, to introduce a mechanism to protect the European budget and NextGenerationEU fund by tying the money to respect for the rule of law.

Let there be no doubt: The Parliament fully supports the recovery plan. Our economies need urgent help; we must save jobs and create opportunities for the future. Indeed, the Parliament showed its commitment to moving forward with the plan by voting on it last month.

It is now up to the EU’s 27 governments and their national parliaments to do the same. It is unacceptable that some are resisting the agreement they signed up to over the summer and are ready to take the recovery plan hostage in order to serve their own interests — and continue undermining the rule of law.

The situation is becoming increasingly urgent. Across the bloc, citizens are grappling with severe economic challenges. We cannot afford to let these discussions drag on and delay the disbursement of funds.

But we must also remember that our values are not for sale. It is critical that we stand by the commitment to tie funding to the rule of law and not bend to pressure from national governments who resist it.

Too much is at stake. In some countries, attacks on press freedom and civil society, and the takeover of media groups by a ruling oligarchy are becoming the norm, undermining the functioning of EU democracy.

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Efforts by some governments to muzzle their judges — and create a climate of fear and control at every level of the national judicial system — is calling into question the EU’s entire legal regime.

Furthermore, when a handful of people take control of public funds and public procurement, and corruption becomes par for the course — as has happened in some countries — this threatens the integrity of our internal market.

In order to tackle these urgent issues, it is crucial that we link respect for the rule of law to the disbursement of funds in the EU budget. As we proceed to do that, there are three criteria we must ensure are met.

First, there needs to be a clear and decisive process for determining adherence to the rule of law. This should take the form of a delegated decision by the Commission that can only be reversed by a qualified majority vote in the Council.

Second, the Commission’s decision should be based on the newly introduced Annual Rule of Law report and an independent panel of rule of law experts. The scope of this review should include violations of the principles of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, at a bare minimum.

Third, we must not allow member countries to postpone an agreement on this mechanism to link rule of law and EU funding to a future Council meeting. This creates a loophole that means discussions on the issue could drag on for years and serves only the interests of those who do not wish to see any measures taken.

Most importantly, we must protect European citizens by putting a system in place for them to access EU funds directly should their government’s behavior prevent them from receiving them through regular channels. No European citizen should be punished for their government’s failure to respect and uphold the founding principles of our Union.

All three EU institutions should be involved in this process, which means the European Parliament should have a substantive role to play alongside the Commission and the Council. We are fully prepared to take on this responsibility. It is what our citizens are asking of us.

We urge the Council to do the same and to adopt a constructive attitude to the issue of the rule of law. We must do everything we can to protect our great European democracy, our economy, our values and, most importantly, our citizens.

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