What is the Rule of Law mechanism?
According to the European Commission website: ”The rule of law is one of the fundamental values of the Union, enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union. It is also a prerequisite for the protection of all the other fundamental values of the Union, including for fundamental rights and democracy. Respect for the rule of law is essential for the very functioning of the EU: for the effective application of EU law, for the proper functioning of the internal market, for maintaining an investment-friendly environment and for mutual trust. The core of the rule of law is effective judicial protection, which requires the independence, quality and efficiency of national justice systems.”
We can safely say that abiding by the Rule of Law is one of the core values of every member state of the European Union, which then begs the question, what should happen if a member country stopped upholding it?
That was the question that the European Commission asked itself, when it came to passing the new budget for the next 6 years. There had been numerous complaints that, despite its noble ideals, the European Union had many member states which simply refused to comply with these principles, two of the most egregious examples being Hungary and Poland. In Hungary, the authoritarian regime of Viktor Orban stands as an insult against all the EU stands for, while in Poland more and more human rights are being taken away on a daily basis.
The solution that the EU came with was to hit them where it hurts most, in their economy, and so the Rule of Law mechanism was born. What this mechanism does is it allows the EU to withhold funds from certain countries if they fail to uphold basic rule of law standards, such as judicial independence and respect for the human rights.
What are the results of the mechanism?
Hungary and Poland would both be affected by this measure, since they were deemed to be in violation of EU principles, they blocked the budget from passing, in an attempt to remove the Rule of Law mechanism. This strategy sparked a lot of debate between not only the member countries, but also between the citizens of the European Union, with questions such as „Should we still have a veto power in the European Commission?”; „Does the EU have the legitimacy to enforce certain attitudes and laws in the member states?”.
After some gruelling months, during which the procedure for distributing the budget was screeching to a halt, Hungary and Poland finally agreed to voting in favour of the budget, under the provision that the Rule of Law mechanism be reviewed by the European Court of Justice, a process that could take up to two years.
Hungary and Poland have managed to avert the threat of losing EU funds over rule of law breaches — but only temporarily.
Only time will tell whether this is the right way to go for the EU, whether it was the right thing to intervene in such a direct and unprecedented manner. For now, we can certainly say that this marks the beginning of a more tumultuos and action-oriented future for both the European Union and its member states.
Legal Intern R&R Partners Bucharest
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