The European Parliament has, by a large majority, adopted a resolution calling on the European Commission to begin action to withhold funds from member states that fail to respect the rule of law. The document names Hungary and Poland as particular violators.
The resolution was condemned by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which unsuccessfully proposed an amendment calling for the rule-of-law mechanism not to be applied due to the war in Ukraine and the pandemic. It also called on the EU to immediately release Covid recovery funds that have been blocked over rule-of-law concerns.
In the resolution adopted today – with 478 votes in favour and 155 against – the European Parliament welcomed the recent decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to reject an attempt by Poland and Hungary to prevent EU funds from being made conditional on respect for the rule of law.
The parliament declared that it was now “high time” for the European Commission to “react to the ongoing violations of the rule of law in some EU member states, which pose a danger to the European Union’s financial interests”.
It called on the commission to initiate use of the conditionality mechanism by notifying the concerned member states in writing. The measures should be applied to both the general EU budget and to the EU’s Covid recovery package, said the parliament.
MEPs overwhelmingly welcome CJEU’s dismissal of legal challenges to Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation, stress it’s “high time” for Commission to react to ongoing violations.
— Jaume Duch (@jduch) March 10, 2022
Among Polish MEPs, those from The Left (Lewica), Poland’s second-largest opposition group, voted in favour of the resolution while those from Civic Platform (PO), the largest, abstained. PiS MEPs voted against.
PiS has long opposed the conditionality mechanism, saying that it would be used for political purposes to punish certain member states. Now is a particularly inappropriate time to use it, argues PiS, given the need for EU unity amid the war in Ukraine and resultant refugee crisis.
“The Russians bombed a maternity ward in Mariupol. Meanwhile, Germany is blocking further sanctions against Russia, and the European Parliament votes in favour of sanctions for Poland,” tweeted PiS MP Sylwester Tułajew.
Rosjanie zbombardowali oddział położniczy w Mariupolu. Tymczasem Niemcy blokują kolejne sankcje na Rosję, a Parlament Europejski głosuje za sankcjami dla… Polski.
— Sylwester Tułajew (@Tulajew) March 10, 2022
Yesterday, the European Conservatives and Reformists – a group in which PiS is the dominant force – had tabled an amendment calling for the rule-of-law mechanism not to be applied due to the war in Ukraine and the pandemic. It also called for the EU to unblock Covid funds, which have been frozen for Poland over rule-of-law concerns.
After that amendment was rejected, its author, PiS MEP Bogdan Rzońca, said that “the left-liberal European Parliament has shown Putin that there is no solidarity within the EU and that he can harass and scare the countries that border Ukraine”, reports TVP Info.
He also accused Polish opposition parties of “not wanting money to go to local authorities [in Poland] who are now helping refugees from Ukraine”.
Polish MPs have approved a bill to provide greater support for Ukrainian refugees.
The measures would legalise their stay and give them access to work, healthcare, education and benefits.
All parties apart from the far right voted in favour https://t.co/Yd0qfieDhb
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 10, 2022
PO – which voted against the amendment but abstained on the resolution – “agrees that this, a time of war, is not the time for such resolutions”, said MEP Andrzej Halicki, quoted by TVN24. However, he also called on the PiS government to “end the [rule-of-law] dispute as soon as possible” in order to unblock EU funds.
Robert Biedroń, an MEP and one of the leaders of The Left, said that his group had supported the resolution because “respect for the law, including the right to an independent court that is not influenced by politicians, is a fundamental freedom…[and] the basis of the values for which Ukrainian soldiers are dying today”.
Like Halicki, he also called on PiS to unfreeze funds by reversing its judicial policies. “In these times you have to put aside unnecessary political arguments and do the right thing,” Biedroń told PAP. “The interest of 38 million Poles and over 40 million Ukrainians is more important than the interest of a few politicized judges.”
Main image credit: KPRP (under public domain)
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.