On 22 July 2020, Polish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Leszek Miller of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament posed a written parliamentary question to the European Commission:
“We welcomed the fact that the European Council had succeeded in reaching a compromise on the Union budget for 2021-27 and on the plan to rebuild Europe. The magnitude of the resources the Union intends to devote to tackling the consequences of the pandemic and the recession in Europe is unprecedented. It is all the more welcome since the summit’s conclusions explicitly recognise that the EU’s financial interests must be properly protected and stress the particular importance of respecting the rule of law.
However, the public is being faced with contradictory opinions expressed, on the one hand, by the Presidents of the European Council and the Commission and, on the other, by representatives of the governments of certain Member States, such as Poland and Hungary.
Controversy surrounds the interpretation of the conclusions (point 23) to the extent that they provide for the establishment of a conditionality regime and for measures (sanctions) to be proposed by the Commission and subsequently adopted by the Council by qualified majority.
According to the Polish Government, the statement set out in the second paragraph of point 23 of the conclusions that the European Council would quickly return to this matter means that the Council’s decision (by QMV) will require additional approval by the European Council (unanimity) on each occasion.
Such rhetoric seems to contradict not only the principles of the interpretation of the text, but also the pragmatism of the decision-making process within the EU.
With this in mind, will a Council decision taken by qualified majority be final, or will it need to be confirmed unanimously each time by the European Council?”
On 1 February 2021, Budget and Administration Commissioner Johannes Hahn responded on behalf of the European Commission stating: “On 16 December 2020, the regulation on a general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget was adopted on the basis of the Commission’s proposal of 2018 on a regulation on the protection of the Union’s budget in case of generalised deficiencies as regards the rule of law in the Member States. The regulation applies as of 1 January 2021.
The conclusions of the European Council of 10 and 11 December 2020 refer to the objective of the regulation: to protect the Union budget, including Next Generation EU, its sound financial management and the Union’s financial interests.
This regime provides for adoption of measures by the Council by qualified majority. A recital says that if, exceptionally, the Member State concerned considers that there are serious breaches of the principles of objectivity, non-discrimination and equal treatment of Member States, it may request the President of the European Council to refer the matter to the next European Council. In such exceptional circumstances, no decision concerning the measures should be taken until the European Council has discussed the matter. This process shall, as a rule, not take longer than three months after the Commission has submitted its proposal to the Council.
It is thus clear that decisions in the framework of the general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget are taken by the Council.
With a view to ensuring that these principles will be respected, the Commission intends to develop and adopt guidelines on the way it will apply the regulation, including a methodology for carrying out its assessment. Such guidelines will be developed in close consultation with the Member States.”
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