EU’s biggest groups put Merkel and Von der Leyen on notice as they threaten to sink budget

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In a warning to Poland and Hungary, the four largest political blocs said they refuse to discuss the next multiannual financial framework until sufficient progress is made of legislation to enforce rule of law. The letter, co-signed by the European People’s Party, Socialists and Democrats, Renew and Green groups, was sent directly to EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

The MFF is the EU’s seven-year budget, which is due to run at over €1 trillion after a recent agreement by the bloc’s leaders.

“At this point, our political groups feel the need to outline once more that the rule of law regulation will be adopted by co-decision, and that the adoption of the new multiannual financial framework also fully depends on the Parliament’s consent,” the groups’ leaders wrote.

“Without formal conclusion by the Council and the European Parliament of this file, it will be impossible for us to advance on the MFF.

“The time has come to accelerate the fight against the erosion of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in the very heart of the EU and to underline that electoral victories do not constitute a mandate for heavy-handedness and a departure from European values.”

The letter is a warning shot to populist leaders in Hungary and Poland, who have repeatedly clashed with Brussels for rule of law infringements.

A punishment mechanism was drawn up by EU leaders during a recent summit to decide on the bloc’s next seven-year budget and a coronavirus recovery fund.

Prime ministers and presidents decided money should be withheld from member states who are deemed to break the rules.

But the policy was significantly watered down after threats by Hungary’s Viktor Orban to veto both of the financial packages.

The text initially proposed by the European Commission said the system would “tackle manifest generalised deficiencies” in respect to rule of law.

However, the Council proposal was toned down to suggest only the “financial interests shall be protected in accordance with the general principles” of the EU’s treaty, which claims there should be a “regime of conditionality”.

It was left to the Commission to devise a plan to enforce rule of law, but within the weak guidelines set by the leaders at the summit in July.

Under the current proposal on the table, eurocrats will be able to block funds to countries who break the rules but the judgement can be overruled by member states.

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Johan Van Overtveldt, the chairman of the EU Parliament’s budget committee, insisted the outcome of the negotiations must be approved by politicians across the bloc, including MEPs.

“Every parliament – the Dutch, the Hungarian, you can name a few others – would gladly make a huge monthlong discussion on this issue their favourite sport,” he told the Politico news website.

He added talks to finalise the budget must be completed by the end of October so it can be voted through by the EU Parliament.

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“The end of October would be in terms of the procedures and discussions something that makes much more sense than the end of September,” he said.

But Mr Van Overtveldt issued a warning over the MFF’s chances of being successfully backed by MEPs.

“At this point in time, it’s still clear that there is a majority in this Parliament that certainly with respect to the MFF will not agree with what has been put on the table,” he said.

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