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Rule of law conditionality: MEPs strike a deal with Council

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EU countries that disrespect the rule of law will risk losing access to EU funds, under a provisional deal struck by Parliament and Council negotiators on Thursday (5 November).

“Today’s agreement is a milestone for protecting EU values. For the first time, we have established a mechanism that enables the EU to stop funding governments that disrespect our values such as the rule of law,” said co-rapporteur Petri Sarvamaa (EPP, Finland) after conclusion of the negotiations.

“For us it was crucial that final beneficiaries won’t be punished for wrongdoings of their governments and that they continue receiving funds that have been promised to them and that they rely on, even after the conditionality mechanism has been triggered. We can proudly say that we achieved a strong system that will guarantee their protection,” said co-rapporteur Eider Gardiazabal Rubial (S&D, Spain)

“We did not compromise on the values: we made sure that the rule of law is seen in the context of all the EU values enshrined in the treaties, such as independence of judiciary. Every breach of the rule of law will be covered by the mechanism: from individual breaches to systemic or recurrent breaches for which no mechanism existed so far,” said Sarvamaa.

“European citizens expect us to condition the disbursement of EU funds to the respect of rule of law. The mechanism agreed today does exactly that,” concluded Gardiazabal Rubial.

A press conference by the two co-rapporteurs took place at 12h,
5 November. Find all info here.

A broader concept of breaches of the rule of law

MEPs succeeded in ensuring that the new law does not only apply when EU funds are misused directly, such as cases of corruption or fraud. It will also apply to systemic aspects linked to EU fundamental values that all member states must respect, such as freedom, democracy, equality, and respect for human rights including the rights of minorities.

Parliament’s negotiators also insisted that tax fraud and tax evasion are considered possible breaches, by including both individual cases and widespread and recurrent issues.

Moreover, they succeeded in securing a specific Article that clarifies the possible scope of the breaches by listing examples of cases, such as threatening the independence of the judiciary, failing to correct arbitrary/unlawful decisions, and limiting legal remedies.

Prevention

Crucially, MEPs succeeded in keeping a strong preventive aspect for the mechanism: not only can it be triggered when a breach is shown to directly affect the budget, but also when there is a serious risk that it may do so, thus ensuring that the mechanism prevents possible situations where EU funds could finance actions that are in conflict with EU values.

Protecting final beneficiaries

To ensure that the final beneficiaries who depend on the EU support – such as students, farmers, or NGOs – are not punished for the actions of their governments, MEPs insisted that they can file a complaint to the Commission via a web platform, which will assist them in ensuring they receive the due amounts. The Commission will also have the possibility to make a financial correction by reducing the next instalment of EU support to the respective country in question .

Functioning of the mechanism

MEPs succeeded in shortening the time that the EU institutions will have for the adoption of measures against a member state, if risks of breaches of the rule of law are identified, to a maximum of 7-9 months (down from 12-13 months as initially requested by Council). .

The Commission, after establishing the existence of a breach, will propose to trigger the conditionality mechanism against an EU government. The Council then will have one month to adopt the proposed measures (or three months in exceptional cases), by a qualified majority. The Commission will use its rights to convene the Council to make sure the deadline is respected.

Next steps

The agreed compromise now needs to be adopted formally by the Parliament and EU ministers.

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coronavirus

Italy reports 26,323 new coronavirus cases, 686 deaths

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Italy reported 686 COVID-19-related deaths on Saturday (28 November), against 827 the day before, and 26,323 new infections, down from 28,352 on Friday (27 November), the health ministry said, writes .

There were 225,940 swabs carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 222,803.

Italy was the first Western country to be hit by the virus and has seen 54,363 COVID-19 fatalities since its outbreak emerged in February, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain. It has also registered 1.564 million cases.

While Italy’s daily death tolls have been amongst the highest in Europe over recent days, the rise in hospital admissions and intensive care occupancy has slowed, suggesting the latest wave of infections was receding.

The health ministry said on Friday it would ease anti-COVID-19 restrictions in five regions as of 29 November, including in the country’s richest and most populous region, Lombardy.

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German minister says partial lockdown could last until Spring 2021

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Germany’s partial lockdown measures could be extended until early spring if infections are not brought under control, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said in a newspaper interview published on Saturday (28 November), writes Caroline Copley.

Altmaier told Die Welt it was not possible to give the all-clear while there were incidences of more than 50 infections per 100,000 inhabitants in large parts of Germany.

“We have three to four long winter months ahead of us,” he was quoted as saying. “It is possible that the restrictions will remain in place in the first months of 2021.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed with leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states on Wednesday to extend and tighten measures against the coronavirus until at least 20 December.

Germany imposed a “lockdown light” in early November, which closed bars and restaurants but allowed schools and shops to stay open. The measures have stopped the exponential growth of cases but infections have stabilised at a high level.

There were 21,695 new confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Saturday, bringing total cases since the pandemic began to 1,028,089.

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UK and France sign new deal to stop illegal migration across Channel

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Britain and France signed a new agreement to try to stop illegal migration across the Channel on Saturday (28 November), upping patrols and technology in the hope of closing off a dangerous route used by migrants to try to reach the UK on small boats, writes Sarah Young.

UK interior minister Priti Patel said that under the deal, the number of officers patrolling French beaches would double, and new equipment including drones and radar would be employed.

This year, hundreds of people, including some children, have been caught crossing to southern England from makeshift camps in northern France - navigating one of the world’s busiest shipping routes in overloaded rubber dinghies. Some migrants have drowned.

Patel said in statement that the agreement represented a step forward in the pair’s mission to make channel crossings unviable.

“Thanks to more police patrols on French beaches and enhanced intelligence sharing between our security and law enforcement agencies, we are already seeing fewer migrants leaving French beaches,” she said.

The UK and France plan to continue a close dialogue to reduce migratory pressures at the shared border over the next year, she added.

Patel told UK media that French authorities had stopped 5,000 migrants from travelling to the UK so far this year. She said over the last ten years, the UK had given France £150 pounds to tackle immigration.

She said the recent focus by authorities on stopping small boats meant they were now seeing more migrants trying to cross the Channel via lorries, and that border security was being tightened in France to try to stop that.

Britain is also planning to introduce a new asylum system through legislation next year, Patel said.

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