EU Summit compromise: economy first, rule of law second?

On 21 July 2020, the European Council adopted conclusions on the recovery plan and multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027. EU leaders have agreed to a comprehensive package of €1 824.3 billion.

 

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) is concerned that the allocation of EU funds is only vaguely conditionally tied to a Member State’s compliance with rule of law standards and commitments, including press and media freedom.

 

In the compromise agreement made on 20 July 2020, the final decision on how to regulate and oversee the allocation of funds has been postponed. Making the allocation of EU funds directly conditional on the rule of law is a unique opportunity to finally establish an effective instrument against non-compliance with fundamental rule of law principles, including press and media freedom. Otherwise this sends a bad sign, especially to leaders in countries such as Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary.

 

While the EU Commission, depending on interpretation of language, can apparently present concrete proposals that are linked to the rule of law situation in a country, this would require adoption though by a majority of the Council of the EU. As this may severely limit its effectiveness, an efficient regime of conditionality must be introduced.

 

We welcome the EU Covid-19 recovery fund, which hopefully will also be used to financially support a media sector that has suffered severely during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the lack of transparency on how exactly the money is allocated on a national level gives further cause for concern regarding potential misuse of EU-funds and opens the door for the arbitrary distribution of funds based on political motivations.

 

Ahead of the summit and their EU Council presidency, we urged Germany to prioritise effective solutions to overcoming challenges to media freedom in Europe. We called on EU Member States to adopt an ambitious Multiannual Financial Framework, which will strengthen the media sector and support independent journalism under the Creative Europe programme.

 

Dear President Michel, dear Council of the European Union, dear EU leaders: We acknowledge the difficulty of such negotiations in finding a compromise amongst 27 different national interests. But rule of law must be given priority. European solidarity must be tied to European values.

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