European parliament votes to halt cash payments to countries undermining rule of law

The European parliament has overwhelmingly backed plans to cut EU funds to member states that undermine the rule of law or tolerate corruption, in a move that could raise tensions with the governments in Hungary, Poland and Romania, all of which are accused of either weakening judicial independence or facilitating corruption.

Romania is currently the holder of the rotating presidency of the EU Council.

MEPs voted 397 to 158 in favour of a draft law that would halt EU payments to any country whose government was found to be eroding democratic values.

“Respecting the rule of law is a fundamental prerequisite for democracy, stability, prosperity and mutual trust,” said Petri Sarvamaa, a Finnish MEP, who co-authored the parliament’s proposals. “Without the rule of law, the European Union loses its credibility in the eyes of the citizens and in the eyes of the world.”

The draft law is the latest attempt by EU politicians to discipline countries not viewed as respecting the rule of law. While the EU has opened Article 7 disciplinary procedures against Poland and Hungary, officials have been looking for a better way of dealing with the issue.

Creating a clear and transparent link between the rule of law and EU funds would have a big impact on some national budgets, especially in emerging Europe, where European money makes up a large proportion of infrastructure spending. In Poland EU funds make up 61 per cent of public investment, in Hungary 55 per cent and Romania 45 per cent.

The proposal must now be approved by the European Council, unlikely to happen until after this year’s European elections, and certainly not before the EU’s next seven-year budget (for the period 2021-2028) has been finalised.