We all know how the pandemic has disrupted the lives and businesses of millions of EU citizens and we cannot see with absolute clarity how and when we will be out of this crisis.
At the European Union level, the efforts to mitigate its devastating impact have been intensive, comprehensive and robust. A number of radical and creative decisions have been taken and as we saw just a few days ago, Malta has already received EUR 120 million as part of the EU Sure programme, intended to help subsidise the salaries of workers hit by the Covid-19 outbreak. And it will receive a similar amount shortly as well.
But this is just a foretaste of what was meant to come to Malta from the EU. As part of the Covid-19 Recovery Plan and the EU long-term-budget, an extra €2 billion were allocated to Malta for the next seven years. First Vice President Roberta Metsola and Quaestor David Casa, together with their EPP Group MEP colleagues, fought tooth and nail over the past months, for this generous level of funding. This is indeed good news for small businesses, citizens, students, farmers, researchers and many others.
The bad news is that a few days ago the Polish and the Hungarian governments have blocked these EU funds from being released to the people that need it most. Those who have found themselves gasping for air precariously, under the heavy yoke of the pandemic.
We, as EPP Group, made sure that the EU-seven-year-budget is based on an effective, expert-driven mechanism that ensures the respect for the rule of law is made a precondition for receiving EU payouts. What this means is that countries which do not respect this EU core principle of the rule of law, particularly in relation to the independence of justice and the freedom of the media, would not receive EU payouts. This policy mechanism, is a non-political process that applies equally to all countries. Yet, Hungary and Poland object to it and we cannot understand why.
This rule of law mechanism is not about one specific country or about East and West. It is neutral and it applies to all. If you respect the rule of law there is nothing to be scared about. Denying the whole European continent crisis funding, in the worst crisis since decades is incomprehensible.
And let us be clear. Independent judiciaries and free media are the corner stones of our democracies and our freedom. We will not compromise on that and European citizens are behind us.
According to the latest poll carried out for the European Parliament, a stunning 80 percent of Europeans believe that sticking to democratic principles must be a precondition for receiving EU money. We will not let these people down. We will not give in and we will not give up.
The EU is not a cash machine
Every member state which wants to receive EU money must stick to the basic principles of democracy and the rule of law. The EU is not a cash machine but a union of values. That is why we made sure that the EU’s long-term budget is based on an effective mechanism that ensures the respect for the rule of law as a precondition for receiving EU funds.
The new mechanism defines clear timelines for decisions and will allow for a more effective defence of the values that are laid down in our treaties. As such, it will complement the current lengthy mechanism (the so called Article 7 procedure), under which European leaders have refused to take any action in the past.
Under the agreed mechanism, EU funding will be stopped not only when the rule of law has already been breached, but also in cases where there is a serious risk of this still happening. For example, when the independence of national courts is undermined, there is a clear future risk that judges may take arbitrary decisions or disregard cases of corruption and fraud.
The EU cannot continue using double standards; demanding high democratic standards from candidates countries which seek to join the EU and at the same time letting EU governments slip back to authoritarian tendencies, without batting an eye lid.
This is not acceptable for us and we won’t cave in. Our people deserve better.
Manfred Weber is leader of the European People’s Party, Bernard Grech is leader of the Nationalist Party in Malta.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.