The European Commission was said to be drawing up plans to trigger new conditionality rules that ties EU cash hand outs to good behaviour. Budapest and Warsaw are at the frontline in the battle but eurocrats are also investigating several other member states where rule of law violations could threaten the use of EU funds. It has been reported that officials believe the first public warnings could come within weeks because of mounting pressure from the European Parliament for action.
The new rules were the subject of gruelling talks late last year as Poland and Hungary threatened to veto the bloc’s seven-year budget, including its vast £689 billion coronavirus recovery fund, because of the regime.
MEPs have been ramping up pressure on the Commission to finally use the new system to crack down on alleged rule-breakers.
Both Poland and Hungary have seen their acceptance of their Covid spending plans delayed while officials ponder what action to take against them.
Eurocrats have signalled that Warsaw could have its strategy green lighted as early as November, but only if its eurosceptic government signs up to legally binding measures to restore the rule of law.
That would pave the way for the EU to pay out almost £21 billion in non-repayable grants to help Poland’s economic recovery after the pandemic.
But top eurocrats are wary of any potential crackdown effectively harming the reputation of the bloc in Poland.
Commission vice-president Vera Jourova told the Politico news website: “Whatever I do in Poland I have in mind that at least half of the population is is in favour of EU values.”
She insisted that Brussels does not want to penalise Polish citizens for the actions of the right-wing government in Warsaw.
“Brussels did not create this dilemma,” said added.
“It’s a domestic production for domestic political purposes.”
Ms Jourova added: “The preparations to trigger the rule of law conditionality are too advanced for us not to use them.
“The train is rolling at high speed and cannot be stopped.”
The Commission is likely to trigger the measures before October 25, when the EU Parliament’s budgetary control committee is due to meet.
Previous attempts to punish Poland and Hungary, using the EU’s Article 7 measures, have proved unsuccessful because of a rule that requires unanimous support from member states.
This essentially has allowed the two rogue states to protect each other.
Ms Jourova told the Financial Times: “The Commission has new tools when it comes to protecting the EU budget and the rule of law and it’s important we use them – we have to be credible.”
MUST READ: Brexit: City of London boss urges Boris to make a U-turn