The European Commission is finalizing the guidelines on the conditions linked to respect for the rule of law in the management and distribution of the multimillion-dollar community funds. The guidelines will be the guide for the implementation of the regulation approved at the end of last year and which entered into force on January 1. This rule allows for the first time to suspend funds to countries whose rule of law does not guarantee proper management of Community resources, financed by all European taxpayers.
The draft guidelines point to attacks on judicial independence as one of the main causes for suspending funds in countries that endanger the separation of powers. But it also points to the generalized or systemic erosion of administrative and judicial controls as a possible trigger for a suspension of funds even though there is no specific case of embezzlement.
This formula, which is in the process of consultation with the Member States and the European Parliament, would give Brussels the possibility of tackling the deterioration of the rule of law in a much more expeditious way than Article 7 of the Union Treaty, which requires in certain steps unanimity. Poland and Hungary, which have been subject to the procedures of this article for years, have avoided any punishment thanks to their mutual support and the complicity of other community partners who fear being involved in similar proceedings. The new regulation will allow the community manna to be cut by a qualified majority, a serious warning for countries where up to 60% of public investment depends on European solidarity, such as Hungary or Poland.
Brussels must apply this harsh rule with total transparency, fairness and without any discrimination. No country should feel the object of special surveillance, among other things, so that certain governments do not feed victimhood and Europhobia among their public opinions. But the Commission must be inflexible in demanding a guaranteeing management of funds that are the expression of European integration. The EU cannot continue to be a simple ATM for governments that do not believe in its values, especially when it comes to the recovery fund against the pandemic, which represents the largest financial effort undertaken by the EU in its entire history.
The legal text limits the possible suspension of funds to deficiencies in the rule of law that have a real and demonstrable impact on the management of community money. The European Commission seems ready to take advantage of all the room for maneuver offered by the regulation in this way to prevent governments that weaken democracy from continuing to take advantage of European funds. Paradoxically, these funds sometimes fuel the authoritarian drift because they are channeled through clientelist networks linked to the leaders in power.
The enormous jump in European solidarity that the recovery fund represents (with subsidies financed for the first time through shared debt) calls for a similar jump in the level of demand for public opinion in all countries, but especially in those main contributors, do not turn against the project and demand the end of the financial transfers.