EC VP Timmermans refuses to yield over rule of law - press

OLIVIER HOSLET/PAP/EPA

The vice president of the European Commission has said Europe will not concede ground in its standoff with Poland and Hungary over a rule of law mechanism in the new EU budget.

Frans Timmermans told Gazeta Wyborcza, a Polish newspaper, that no one had forced the two countries to sign and ratify the European Treaty and now they must observe it.

“To make concessions over the rule of law would mean abandoning the common values of the European Union,” he told the paper. “The Union is based on three pillars: democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. If one of these is removed, the EU would collapse.”

Poland and Hungary have threatened to veto the next EU budget, and an attached pandemic recovery fund, over the mechanism, which they claim breaks EU treaties.

Referring to the Hungarian and Polish governments Timmermans added that democracy could not be used as an excuse to say "since we won the elections we are free to liquidate independent courts and free media,"

The EC vice-president said the rule of law was not an internal matter of a given member state, as EU citizens travel to and live in other countries of the bloc, so there must be certainty that European law is applied the same way across Europe.

On the subject of where the EU would take money for the Recovery Fund and Green Deal in the event of Poland and Hungary vetoing the budget, Timmermans said if there was no deal then on January 1, 2021, a provisional budget would be implemented.

Then it would be possible to pay out one-twelfth of the annual budget per month, which Timmermans said would have very negative consequences not only for the Green Deal but also for existing programmes.

The EU would have to seek an alternative to the Recovery Fund, he added, which would affect only 25 member states. The vice president expressed his hope that that would not happen and that the EU could function with unity.

The go-it-alone stance of Hungary and Poland has fuelled speculation that they have started the slow process of leaving the EU, although both governments deny this.

Timmermans said that there were politicians in both countries that fantasise that leaving the EU would give them greater sovereignty. But they should, he added, take note of opinion polls that report huge levels of support for EU membership in both countries.