On June 19, European Union leaders are set to discuss the next long term budget, including a groundbreaking proposal made two years ago by the European Commission to link access to some EU funding to compliance with the rule of law.
Arguing that domestic checks and balances are necessary to guarantee EU taxpayer money is used responsibly and effectively, the Commission proposed that breaches to the rule of law should justify cutting off or suspending access to funding.
This week Human Rights Watch wrote to European governments urging support for the Commission’s proposal and asking them to expand the grounds for suspending EU funding. Those grounds should include interference with the judiciary, as well as abuses that stymie the work of independent media and civil society groups, who play an essential role in monitoring governments’ use of the funding. Before any decision to suspend funds, the Commission should also conduct a human rights assessment to identify risks to peoples’ rights from the funding cuts and mitigate them so that citizens are not punished for their government’s attacks on core EU values.
When states joined the EU, they committed to respecting its founding principles of respect for the rule of law and democracy. They should now equip the Commission with tools to address violations of those principles, seeking guarantees that money is not diverted or not used to support abuses.
Throughout Europe, the values of democracy encapsulated in EU treaties have been undermined by governments implementing hard-right populist agendas – to the detriment of the rights of their most vulnerable citizens.
On June 16, the Hungarian Parliament ended the Covid-19 state of emergency but allowed the government to continue to rule by decree, with very limited scrutiny. In May, a law targeted rights of transgender and intersex people, and last week authorities launched a sham national consultation with biased questions that appears designed to legitimize Orbán’s smears against migrants, George Soros, and the EU. In Poland, the government eroded courts’ independence and supported campaigns targeting women’s, LGBT, and migrants’ rights.
In a recent interview, EU Commissioner on Values and Transparency Věra Jourová rightly concluded that the EU “should be stricter in linking disbursement of money with the principles we expect to be adhered to.”
It’s now up to member states to translate this vision into a reality for all EU citizens.