Sant accuses European Parliament of 'overstepping its role on rule of law'

It is unacceptable that a political entity such as the European Parliament, with many of its Members having a direct conflict of interest in the case, attempts to impose its will on the investigative entity, the European Commission – Alfred Sant

Labour MEP Alfred Sant
Labour MEP Alfred Sant

MEP Alfred Sant, the head of the Labour Party’s delegation to the European Parliament, has accused the EP of “overstepping its role on the rule of law with the conditionality procedure followed being highly inappropriate and detrimental to European values”.

Sant, speaking in the European Parliament’s plenary session, took aim at recent moves to tie the conditionality of EU funding to the rule of law situation in individual member states.

Under the EU rules, budget payments can be withheld from member states where it is established that rule of law breaches have compromised the proper management of the EU funds. As such, the conditionality regime makes any disbursements of EU funds to member states conditional on the state of their respective rule of law.

Sant insisted on Monday morning, “the procedure leading to the application of EU Regulation 2020/2092 on a general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget should be one based on a technocratic, transparent and independent investigation, focusing on the flaws in the rule of law in a Member State according to a well-thought-out methodology”.

MEPs have adopted a resolution saying that the EU’s new rule of law mechanism, which links funding from the EU’s budget to the protection of fundamental democratic norms, should already have been triggered against Poland and Hungary, Sant observed.

The resolution per se calls for legal proceedings by the European Parliament against the European Commission over its failure to trigger financial sanctions against Poland and Hungary for undermining the rule of law.

In his plenary intervention, Sant insisted that political statements that attempt to amplify or screen the real situation on the ground should not influence this procedure.

He adds, “the same Regulation states that when the Commission is assessing the conditions of a country, it shall take into account relevant information including decisions, conclusions and recommendations of Union institutions.

“However, it is unacceptable that a political entity such as the European Parliament, with many of its Members having a direct conflict of interest in the case, attempts to impose its will on the investigative entity - the European Commission.

“Having said all of this, in no way can I condone or support most of the measures that are bringing the mentioned member states under scrutiny. For these reasons, I abstained on the final vote.”

The parliament’s legal service is now expected to prepare a case against the Commission to be lodged at the European Court of Justice later this year. The resolution proposed by the Greens group passed with 506 MEPs voting in favour, 150 against and 28 abstentions.

Czech Prime Minister’s company receiving EU agricultural funds

While Malta could come into the crosshairs at some stage, MEPs’ main target is Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, whose agricultural company is the recipient of millions in EU funding.

In a resolution adopted last Thursday with 505 votes in favour, 30 against and 155 abstentions, MEPs deplored the reported attempts in March 2020 by the Czech government to legalise Prime Minister Babiš’s conflicts of interest via ad hoc legislation.

MEPs also expressed deep concern over the political pressure on independent Czech media as well as the country’s previous prosecutor-general.

MEPs consider that the Czech Government’s lack of action in tackling the Prime Minister’s conflict of interest “has a negative impact on the functioning of the Czech State authorities and on compliance with EU legislation”. Parliament calls on the Commission to assess this situation “with a view to identifying breaches of rule of law and if confirmed and on the grounds of its findings, activate in due time the conditionality mechanism for the protection of the Union’s budget”.

MEPs found it unacceptable that the Czech Prime Minister is still involved in Council negotiations on EU funding programmes while continuing to receive EU agricultural payments via his Agrofert group companies. They insist that the conflict of interest situation needs to be fully addressed, either by ensuring Mr Babiš no longer has any economic interest in the Agrofert group or by not giving EU funding to his businesses.

Another option would be to ensure that he or other members of his government fully abstain from EU decision-making that might directly or indirectly concern the interests of the Agrofert group.

MEPs also stress that “it seems doubtful that such a measure could adequately address the conflict of interest in practice if the persons in question continue to exercise their public functions, and that resigning from public duty, therefore, constitutes a more adequate means to fully address the conflict of interest”.

Czech citizens should not suffer from Babiš’s conflict of interest

MEPs condemned the practice of withdrawing EU funding from projects in order to finance them from the national budget once the Commission or EU auditors have detected irregularities. They also stress that “Czech citizens and taxpayers should not pay or suffer any consequences deriving from the conflict of interest of the Prime Minister Babiš” and demand that Agrofert group companies repay all subsidies unlawfully received from the EU or Czech national budgets.

Rapporteur Monika Hohlmeier (EPP, DE), who recently clashed with Maltese Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba when he unexpectedly turned up to a Budgetary Control Committee meeting discussing the conditionality clause and Malta, did not mince her words when it came to Czechia.

“All of the evidence we have at hand indicates there are serious, systemic problems for Czechia that urgently need to be dealt with,” she said.

“We expect the Commission to take clear action, both to remedy the consequences of historical cases and to prevent future Czech ministers or prime ministers from influencing the allocation of EU funds in favour of companies belonging to their family members or to themselves.”

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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