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EC moves to vet Member States on rule of law

EU nations will be vetted annually on adherence to the rule of law, according to a policy paper released by the European Commission. Incoming EC President Ursula von der Leyen said she fully supports an “EU-wide rule-of-law mechanism,” amid fears she may be influenced by nationalist governments in Poland and Hungary that supported her appointment.

Details on the rule-of-law mechanism were contained in a policy paper published Wednesday by EC Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who has repeatedly clashed with ruling parties in both Poland and Hungary, which blocked his candidacy as EC president.

In a statement Timmermans said the rule of law had “come under attack in several ways” in the past five years, without naming specific countries.

“The European Commission has been fighting hard to resist these attacks with the tools available to us, and will continue to do so. Today we have decided to further strengthen our toolbox, to promote, protect, and enforce the rule of law,” he said.

Ursula von der Leyen, the incoming president of the European Commission, said in an interview with the U.K.ʼs The Guardian and four other European newspapers - her first since being narrowly approved for the post by the European Parliament on Tuesday - that the EU should take “a more nuanced approach” towards states such as Poland and Hungary.

“I think we have to properly listen to the arguments. For example, the Poles make the justified point that they have taken in 1.5 million people from Ukraine – a country that has for years been the site of a hybrid war in which people are still dying. We must not ignore that,” The Guardian cited her as saying in the interview.

With regard to the EUʼs refugee distribution scheme, sharply opposed by Hungary, von der Leyen called for solidarity among members.

“The member states who want to go ahead are already in the process of finding solutions. But it remains the case that in different areas every member state needs the solidarity of the others. We need a fair sharing of the burden – maybe in different areas for different countries,” she said.

Von der Leyen urged a more conciliatory tone with respect to perceived deficits in the rule of law in countries such as Hungary, stressing that emotion must be taken out and debates “objectified.”

“In countries in Central and Eastern Europe, many have the feeling that they arenʼt fully accepted,” she argued. “When we conduct these debates in a manner as severe as we have, it also contributes to the belief that those countries and peoples are meant as a whole when specific shortfalls are being criticized. We must all learn that perfect rule of law is always our goal, but that nobody is perfect.”

Last September, the European Parliament approved a report triggering an Article 7 procedure against Hungary which could ultimately strip the country of its EU voting rights. MEPs voted to launch the procedure because of the “existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded.”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán called the report “an insult to the Hungarian people” and Hungarian lawmakers passed a resolution condemning it.