Verhofstadt cheers EU for blocking ‘coup’ by Poland and Hungary – forcing through budget

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The Belgian MEP said the EU’s €1.8 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery fund would have “far-reaching political consequences” as crooked capitals delve into the huge war chest. In a speech to the European Parliament, he claimed the “historic step in European integration” had held hostage and watered down by Poland and Hungary’s threat to veto the seven-year package. The rants came after last year’s European Council summit decided on a process for linking future handouts from Brussels’ cash coffers to good behaviour and respect for bloc’s democratic and judicial values.

Leaders used a four-page non-binding declaration to overcome opposition from Warsaw and Budapest to the financial package amid fears the capitals would be unfairly targeted under the new rules.

MEPs are worried the conclusions drawn up by the European Council could be used to ride roughshod over the rule of law mechanism by rogue EU states.

Mr Verhofstadt said: “All those who have criticised this package from the eurosceptic side are completely right.

“Indeed, this is a huge step in European integration, a historic step in European integration – €750 billion of recovery fund, paid with with new own resources, financed by eurobonds, and linked to the rule of law.

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“But let’s be honest, there is one shadow cast over this, and that is the way naturally, Mrs von der Leyen, the European Council, has to molest… I should say the European treaties and principles to get over this blackmail by Hungary and Poland.

“ I have here before me this fantastic opinion of the legal service, Mr President [Charles Michel], four paragraphs, no mention of one article of the Treaty, no mention of one court case, saying exactly the opposite.

“The reality is that it’s not a coup d’etat but merely a coup d’eta, what the European Council did. And I think that the European Parliament in any way has to scrutinise if we go to court on this. Because there is one thing, and I will conclude with that: you cannot save the rule of law in a member state, if you in fact ruin the rule of law of the Union itself.”

In previous negotiations over the package, the EU Parliament insisted on a much stricter mechanism to block EU funding to countries at risk of breaking the bloc’s rules.

In a resolution voted on by MEPs, they branded the fudged proposal “superfluous”

“The content of the European Council conclusions on the Regulation on a general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget is superfluous ,” it reads.

The resolution adds: “The applicability, purpose and scope of the Rule of Law Regulation is clearly defined in the legal text of the said Regulation.”

With the threat of a parliamentary revolt hanging over the package, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said MEPs had “understandable concerns”.

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“I understand there is a fear that the application of the regulation will be delayed and that justice delayed might be justice denied,” she told the European Parliament.

Under the current proposal, The European Court of Justice would have to make a ruling on the legality of the regulation before the Commission can draw up plans to trigger the mechanism.

This has sparked fears of delays and that the process will not be ready in time to govern over Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, who faces national elections in 2022.

Mrs von der Leyen added: “I can assure you the Commission will always act in full autonomy, full respect of the rule of law and full objectivity.

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“And we will start the necessary work of monitoring immediately. When concerns arise discussions with member states will also commence without undue delay.”

The Parliament’s resolution is backed by a majority of the political groups, including Mrs von der Leyen’s own centre-right European People’s Party.

It was also supported by the socialist, green and liberal blocs in the EU Parliament.

Senior MEPs spoke out in support for the Commission and insisted the Council should no longer have a say in ensuring the EU’s budget payments are linked to the rule of law.

German MEP Manfred Weber, who leads the EPP, said: “This €1.8 trillion is also linked to an historic achievement to link, for the first time, money to the basic principles we believe in – the rule of law mechanism.

“We need now an independent Commission that is ready to use the new tool from the first day on.

“I thank Ursula, the Commission President, for the clear commitment in this regard. This mechanism is not against a country, this mechanism is in favour of Europe.”

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