EU: a deal at the expense of the rule of law?
The EU member states did not adopt a proposed passage making the payment of EU funds conditional on respect for the rule of law at their recovery summit. Hungary in particular fiercely opposed the text. Now the Council of Ministers is to vote on similar a rule, but here too, it is unclear whether it will obtain the necessary majority to pass. Many commentators conclude that not enough is being done to fight corruption and authoritarianism.
Democracy has been sidelined
The summit has fallen short of people's expectations, Sydsvenskan laments:
“This goes to the very heart of the EU. ... The coronavirus package was a great opportunity to effectively counterbalance the illiberal forces that are spreading across Europe. ... Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel claim that clear criteria have been set up to this end and can now be implemented. How much truth there is to this statement is unclear. The EU is staggering under the weight of the corona package. Not because it costs so much, but because it's not sufficiently clear.”
Europe à la carte
Diplomat Giampiero Massolo complains in La Stampa that the rule of law has fallen victim to selfish interests:
“The image of an à la carte integration process has emerged. With much indulgence for the 'small victories' of each individual, but with disregard for the fact that in reality these are 'small defeats' for the coherence of the overall project. Particularly with regard to the rule of law. The manifestly instrumentalising approach that Prime Minister Rutte and others have taken on this issue has trivialised its importance and allowed a topic that should be non-negotiable to be lost in the flow of negotiations.”
The Czech Republic should insist on stringency
It is a mistake to see the renunciation of tougher rule-of-law criteria as advantageous for the Czech Republic, stresses Deník:
“It's a disgrace for the Czech Republic and its prime minister that they are tacitly but effectively supporting Poland and Hungary in their opposition to the rule of law. It shows that Prime Minister Andrej Babiš either has a guilty conscience or dubious intentions with the Czech state. Or both. For us Czechs, adherence to the rule of law should be a condition for receiving EU funds. After all, it's our money too.”
The EU has instruments against corruption
The fact that little was done at the summit to further the rule of law doesn't mean that the EU must continue to look on helplessly when its funds are misused, Handelsblatt stresses:
“The EU Commission still hasn't made use of all the weapons at its disposal in the fight against corruption. It could be stricter in initiating infringement proceedings against disobedient countries than in the past, and quicker in imposing contractual penalties. The EU anti-fraud authority Olaf could also be much more active in countries where even members of government and prime ministers illegally line their pockets with European subsidies. If the European Parliament insisted on this, a lot would be achieved.”