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The European Parliament approved last week the European Commission’s idea to make the bloc’s funding conditional on respect for the union’s values, fueling the EU-wide tensions running high ahead of the European parliament election.
The commission’s plan was given a go-ahead by the European Parliament in a 397-158 vote on Thursday. The parliament, however, added a safety net to prevent end-users of funds such as students or researchers fromtaking the brunt of these sanctions.
Armed with the draft law, the commission and the dominant parties in the parliament will now negotiate it with the Romanian presidency of the Council of the European Union to try and get the new regulation adopted, so it could come into force for the next budget program (2021-2027).
The draft law approved by members of parliament, if it is finally adopted, will mean that the European Commission will be tasked with establishing “generalised deficiencies as regards the rule of law,” with the help of a panel of independent experts and deciding on punishment that could include suspending EU budget payments or reducing pre-financing.
The decision would only be implemented once approved by the parliament and the council. The commission would submit a proposal to the parliament and EU ministers to transfer an amount matching the value of the proposed disciplinary measures to the budgetary reserve. The decision would take effect after four weeks, unless the parliament, by the majority of votes cast, or the council, by a qualified majority, amend or reject it. Once the commission establishes that the issue has been resolved, the locked amount will be unfrozen using the same procedure.
Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, a French member of the European Parliament, expressed his concern over losing the unanimity rule.
“We are in fact abandoning the unanimity rule, because the procedure provides for a qualified majority vote in the Council, unlike the procedure for Article 7 [that could lead to suspending certain rights of an EU member state] which requires unanimity,” Schaffhauser told Sputnik.
Even though the draft law is not expected to come into force before the European elections slated for May, it has already faced certain backlash.
Hungary’s swift and harsh reaction is unsurprising. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed the term “illiberal democracy” in a fiery speech in July, arguing that “liberal democracy has been transformed into liberal non-democracy.” Orban’s speech came several months after French President Emmanuel Macron slammed the rise of “illiberal democracies.”
The standoff is largely linked to migration in January, Hungarian prime minister branded Macron the leader of the bloc’s “pro-immigration forces” and vowed to fight him because of that. In his Julyspeech, Orban argued that liberal democracy was pro-immigration, while Christian democracy was not, thus pointing to one of the biggest issues that the bloc is facing.
Ever since the influx of migrants to the European Union surged in 2015, the anti-migrant sentiment has been growing in the bloc. This and other contentious issues may come into play at the new European election slated for May. Brussels may then experience “severe backlash” over its current treatment of the governments that disagree with it, David Coburn, UK member of the European Parliament, told Sputnik.
“The EU will use every tool at its disposal to silence dissenting voices in Europe.
These Governments that they are threatening with punitive measures were elected by the people and for the people. Any attempt to sanction them by the Brussels bureaucrats will see a severe backlash in the European elections in May. I wish them all the best,” Coburn said.
Marco Zanni, a member of the European Parliament and of Italy‘s Lega party, remarked that Brussels could use such an instrument as the draft law on funding as a political tool, “to attack and put pressure on Poland and Hungary.”
“We hope that, in the new Parliament after the elections, an alternative majority will be formed and this will be abandoned. Many Member States, if attacked so badly and hit by seeing their access to European funding stopped, could consider leaving the European Union,” Zanni told Sputnik.
Polish member of the European Parliament Michal Marusik also pointed to the possibility of more countries considering exit.
“Italy, Hungary, Austria or Poland are victims of the parties in power in Brussels. These countries will unfortunately not decide on any changes in the functioning of the European Union, acting ‘from the inside’, I am afraid … If such an arrogant attitude by the Brussels Commission comes to results, countries will also start to envisage an exit of the European Union. The advantage of leaving the European Union for Poland would be simple and obvious,” Marusik said.
Gilles Lebreton, the head of the delegation of France‘s National Rally party in the European Parliament, believes a new Brexit is unlikely as the balance of power in the European Parliament is about to change.
“I think it is in fact a swan song; the last attempt by our opponents to rush to vote this kind of text while they can, months before the Europe elections that will partly at least, wipe them out. I am not afraid and the countries concerned shouldn’t be: they will not be able to put their threats into action,” Lebreton told Sputnik.
A lot of hopes appear to be pinned on the upcoming election, but it may still be unable to change the status quo, according to member of the European Parliament from the Hungarian Egyutt party Benedek Javor.
“In the European Parliament there might be some shift, but you should keep in mind, that Brexit hits the most the euroskeptic and populist groups (UKIP and Tories leaving them), so strengthening in other [members] will be rather enough to compensate this loss than to increase their numbers,” Javor told Sputnik.
The commission and the council are likely to change little, if at all, “definitely not changing the fundamental patterns,” Jabor said.
Dr. Roland Hartwig, the vice-chairman of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party’s parliamentary group in the Bundestag, is more optimistic about the European Parliament‘s future composition, in terms of opposition to illegal immigration.
“I am convinced that the anti-illegal-immgration forces within the Parliament will become much stronger after the election. This will either force the European Union to take effective measures against illegal immigration on a European level quite soon or to allow national solutions to proceed,” Hartwig told Sputnik.
This May, a year after the European Commission adopted its proposal to link funding to the rule of law, European elections will show whether such a profound change in Brussels‘ policies can become reality.