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The institutions finally brokered a deal on a tool to tie future budget payments to good behaviour in order to fully mobilise the €1.8 trillion seven-year budget and coronavirus recovery fund. EU negotiators today agreed a breakthrough on the rule-of-law mechanism after years of haggling over a method to crack down on the bloc’s rule-breakers. The negotiations have often split European capitals and pitted them against MEPs, and are expected to provoke fury from the likes of Poland and Hungary.
A majority of member states still need to approve the new agreement before it can be implemented into the bloc’s rules.
Hungarian Judit Varga accused the European Parliament of making a “reckless and mistaken move” by pushing for a tougher rule-of-law mechanism.
She added: “There is no agreement on any element of the EU budget until all its elements have been agreed.”
Under the new proposal, the European Commission will be handed powers to identify breaches of EU rules and to propose a suspension or reduction of budget handouts.
The decision would then need to be approved by a majority of EU governments within one month.
Any punishment would have to be backed by a “qualified majority”, which means at least 15 of the EU’s 27 states representing at least 65 percent of the bloc’s 450 million population must support the decision.
The European Parliament celebrated the agreement as a “historic moment” for the bloc that will stop rogue EU leaders from sliding towards authoritarianism.
Dacian Ciolos, leader of the liberal Renew Europe group, said it was a “major achievement…Europe is not a cash machine.”
Green MEP Daniel Freund, a negotiator involved in the talks, said: “For the first time in Europe, we now have a mechanism that links the disbursement of EU funds to compliance with the rule of law.
“This is a step forward for the protection of European values. The mechanism is not as powerful as we in the European Parliament would have liked. But: the compromise is much stronger than what the German Council Presidency presented a few weeks ago.”
Hungarian MEP Catalan Cseh, of the opposition liberal Momentum party, said the agreement would prevent her country’s leader, Viktor Orban, from using the EU as a “cash machine”.
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She said: “Hungary is not a functioning democracy any more. Orbán and the government will fight to the death to stop the functioning of this. But I hope we have found something to stop this kind of violation.”
An agreement was reached after months of wrangling over the budget and coronavirus bailout agreed by EU leaders in July.
The previous deadlock cast serious doubt over whether the €1.05 trillion Multiannual Financial Framework and €750 billion recovery fund would be ready for January.
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Romanian MEP Cristian Terhes accused Brussels of an unacceptable level of interference in domestic politics.
He said: “The EU is shaking a cheque book rather than a gun at the head of democratically elected governments in Poland and Hungary in order to bully them into doing Brussels’ bidding.
“This is a despicable interference in the lawful democratic decision-making of member states. States have constitutions and parliaments which need to be respected by Brussels, rather than being whipped into line like a badly behaved child.”
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