EC to use rule of law mechanism on Poland, Hungary in early 2021: EC VP

Vera Jourova plans to use a new rule of law mechanism against Poland and Hungary next year, the European Commission’s vice-president for values and transparency has told a German newspaper Tagesspiegel.

Ms Jourova’s comments in Tagesspiegel mean that the two errant Central European states will fail to escape scrutiny, and possible sanctions, from the EU over policies they have introduced that many in Brussels believe undermine the rule of law.

"It is already known that from the start of the year we will implement regulations regarding the mechanism on the rule of law, which means focusing on Poland and Hungary," she said.

Her words also make clear that the European Commission intends to use the new mechanism, linking funding to respect for the rule of law, which was included in the latest EU budget.

“We now have additional means to apply sanctions, but we will have to work hard to make the most of the tools that can lead to cuts in EU funding. We also have to apply the existing EU rules on monitoring the rule of law in member states”, Ms Jourova said.

"The conclusions of the summit are not binding, as according to the treaties, they are not legal sources. The assault on Poland enters a new stage that we, as Solidarity Poland, warned against", the deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta commented on the matter on Twitter.

"We have to keep fighting, but the conditions are much worse than the ones from before the last two European Council summits," he added. Under the new mechanism, EU budget payments can be withheld from countries in which established breaches of the rule of law compromise management of the EU funds. The commission, however, will have to work out and approve guidelines regarding the application of the regulation, including the methodology of its evaluation.

In accordance with a deal between the EU and Poland and Hungary, the new regulations will first be verified by the Court of Justice of the European Union. Ms Jourova stated that, in her opinion, proceedings before the court should last less than 12 months.

The prospect of future budget cuts for misconduct could add to the Polish government’s list of woes with the EU. The country is already battling Article 7 proceedings, which could result in the suspension of its voting rights, because of an overhaul of the judicial system that the EU suspects has compromised the independence of Poland’s Supreme Court.