ECJ: rule of law mechanism is lawful

In a major defeat for Hungary and Poland, the European Court of Justice has dismissed their complaint against the EU rule of law mechanism, which allows the disbursement of funds from the EU budget to be reduced if their correct use is not guaranteed due to shortcomings in the rule of law of a member state. Hungary and Poland now face financial sanctions. Europe's press discusses the merits and consequences of the ruling.

Open/close all quotes
Magyar Hang (HU) /

Budapest and Warsaw all on their own

The ruling sends a clear message, writes Brussels correspondent László Arató in Magyar Hang:

“Hungary and Poland have lost this dispute. This is a strong message that in addition to three major EU institutions, the governments of ten member states were also against the two governments: the illiberal regimes remained embarrassingly alone. In this regard it should also be noted that this is already the umpteenth legal dispute Hungary has lost. ... This time round the result is particularly spectacular: it would be hard to express more clearly that neither the Polish nor the Hungarian government is in the right.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

Not normal democracies

Imposing sanctions is likely to be difficult despite the ruling, Helsingin Sanomat predicts:

“If EU membership is an opportunistic means of securing money for these two countries, countermeasures will have to focus on money. Two things make this tricky. One is that a slightly reduced cash flow will cut funding for citizens and NGOs in the member states. In a normal democracy this would increase the pressure on the government, but Poland and Hungary are not normal democracies. The second problem: ... Hungary is pro-Russian and it would not be surprising if Hungary - in retaliation, so to speak - were to make it even more difficult to formulate a common EU policy.”

Dnevnik (SI) /

No sudden change

The real power to bolster the Union lies elsewhere, Dnevnik makes clear:

“The most powerful instrument to date for protecting the European budget should be used by the European Commission as a technical tool. ... A rapid improvement of the rule of law in the European Union is not to be expected. The strongest tool and guarantor of democracy are still the voters who aren't fooled by rumours about foreign enemies and the ugly aunts and uncles from Brussels and Luxembourg.”

Contributors (RO) /

The EU is not a cash dispenser

Money from Brussels does not come without conditions, Contributors stresses:

“The ECJ's decision was long awaited and comes in the wake of a series of events and attempts to ensure compliance with EU law. With this ruling, governments in Poland and Hungary - including regional governments that emulate their behaviour - will understand that they can only lose by continuing down this path. Whether politicians in these countries are re-elected or not, the message is clear: 'The European Union is not a cash dispenser'. European money will not go where there is no guarantee that it will be used as intended.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Common rules crucial for the single market

Hospodářské noviny also praises the ECJ's decision:

“The judges in Luxembourg did nothing less than stand up for the cohesion of the EU's internal market. It will fall apart if the rules are not the same for everyone. Since the Czech Republic depends on this market - and we mainly associate our membership in the EU with it - it is in the Czech Republic's interest to maintain this cohesion. The Czech government should therefore remind the Polish and Hungarian governments once more that the same standards apply for everyone.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

A blow for the prime minister

Gazeta Wyborcza says the ruling will further weaken the Polish prime minister:

“The ECJ ruling is also another blow for Morawiecki personally. ... And let's not forget that one of the reasons he became prime minister in the first place was to normalise relations with Brussels. After his last speech to the European Parliament, it's clear that the EU has had enough of the deceptions that Morawiecki so successfully concocts on the domestic political stage. Politically, he has proven too weak to fulfil the promise he made in Strasbourg to abolish the Disciplinary Chamber. Kaczyński and Ziobro have already announced that they'll defend Polish sovereignty against Brussels.”

Le Soir (BE) /

Survival of the European project at stake

Despite the need for caution the EU must be quick to use this new weapon to preserve the rule of law, Le Soir urges:

“The Commission's caution is understandable: even if everything is now legally in place, it's not an easy decision for Brussels to go to battle against Viktor Orbán a month before the Hungarian elections. That would only play into the hands of the man who'll say that the whole process is political and could win the election as a result. ... However, the situation is dire: enough of such calculations! The decline of democracy has begun. We must fill ourselves with resolve and strike despite the risk. The European project, its credibility and its survival are at stake.”