‘Hot air’: MEPs say Commission is stalling with rule-of-law blueprint

Several MEPs on Tuesday blasted a new European Commission blueprint for cutting off cash to EU countries that don’t uphold the rule of law — accusing it of using a vague document to stall for time.

The blueprint — seen by POLITICO — was intended to show how the Commission would implement a new regulation that ties the receipt of EU funds to rule-of-law requirements. But the 28-page draft guidelines include few details and largely elaborate on elements outlined in the original regulation, angering MEPs. 

“A lot of hot air,” said German MEP Moritz Körner of the centrist Renew Europe group, merely a “delaying tactic.” 

The document is the latest chapter in a dispute between the Commission and Parliament over when to fully activate the rule-of-law budget regulation. The measure technically went into effect on January 1, but the Commission agreed to pause enforcement implementation until any legal challenges had been resolved — part of a compromise deal made by European leaders.

That could mean a long wait, though, with both Hungary and Poland challenging the regulation’s legality to the EU’s top court. And even though the court has granted a request to fast track the matter, a hearing is not scheduled until October. 

The delay has frustrated MEPs, who want the Commission to pursue cases now, before a final ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union. 

And now the blueprint has landed in the middle of the spat, sent around to MEPs and the Council for consultation throughout the summer months. 

But a number of MEPs almost instantly rejected the guidelines as lacking any real role.

The document “confirms the delaying tactics of the Commission,” said German MEP Daniel Freund, of the Greens. “There is pretty much no substance in these guidelines,” he added, arguing it’s a “complete mystery how this took six months.”

The Parliament has been trying to put more pressure on the Commission to act. In a resolution last week, MEPs threatened to trigger a legal procedure against the Commission “within two weeks” over its failure to move forward.

The center-right European People’s Party point person on the file, Petri Sarvamaa, supported the resolution. But he also said it is important for the Commission to be fully prepared to actually implement the mechanism. 

“This is not about the guidelines,” the Finnish politician said. “It’s about the ability of the Commission to deliver on the regulation.”

It is good that the Commission took six months to reflect on how the regulation would be used “when the time is right, mature to act,” Sarvamaa said.  

A Commission official said that this is the time for Parliament to voice its concerns. 

“We have consulted the Parliament and Council exactly to hear their views and comments,” the official said. “This is a good moment to channel anger or frustration.” 

For the Berlaymont, guidelines are useful in order to define how the mechanism would be used fairly. 

“This is a dangerous tool,” the Commission official said. “It has to be objective: the only way to make it objective is not to shout, but to have criteria.”

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