EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders on Tuesday expressed the European Commission' recommendation that funding from the new EU budget should be contingent on upholding the rule of law.
"There is a proposal within the European Commission that funding from the EU budget should be contingent on upholding the rule of law," Reynders told a press conference after an informal meeting of EU justice ministers in Zagreb.
He pointed out the existence of new instruments for that purpose, such as the European Public Prosecutor's Office established this year, and the first report on the rule of law in EU member states, which should be finalised by the end of this year.
"That must be done," said the Belgian politician about the introduction of such a criterion in the new multiannual financial framework (MFF), which is currently being negotiated. The negotiations are already complicated enough, even without the introduction of that criterion.
Reynders stated that the Commission was currently working on convincing all members of the European Council of the benefits of such a criterion.
However, the realisation of this plan is unlikely. The new MFF is proposed by the European Commission, but it can only be passed by a unanimous decision of all European Council members, in other words, all member states.
That means that the proposal must also be accepted by Hungary and Poland, against which Article 7 of the Treaty has been initiated for allegedly breaching the EU's fundamental values. Under that article, if the Council finds that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values in the countries concerned, their voting rights could be suspended. In order for that to happen, however, a unanimous decision must be reached in the European Council as well.
Last week, the European Parliament passed a resolution warning that the state of rule of law in the two countries has only worsened since Article 7 was initiated.
On Thursday, Warsaw is voting on a controversial law which would allow for disciplinary measures to be taken against judges who are critical of judicial reform.
Reynders said he would not comment on the possible harmfulness of the law in question before he had seen its final version, and he revealed that he would meet officials of the Polish Ministry of Justice in Zagreb on Friday in order to hear their opinions on the law.
The first meeting of the European Council during the Croatian Presidency
The informal meeting of ministers of justice and ministers of home affairs in Zagreb on Thursday and Friday is the first meeting of the kind during the Croatian six-month presidency.
The meeting was chaired by Croatian Minister of Justice Drazen Bosnjakovic. At the press conference he said that the ministers discussed the future in the fields of safety, justice, and freedom, cooperation between member states in civil and commercial cases, and improving legal training.
Reynders emphasised that all member states are agreed on the need to modernise legal systems, which includes the use of contemporary technologies, such as artificial intelligence.