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MEPs urge Brussels to link EU cash handouts to rule of law record

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Hundreds of demonstrators gather to protest against the government in front of the new National Assembly building, demanding government resignation in Sofia, Bulgaria
Hundreds of demonstrators gather to protest against the government in front of the new National Assembly building, demanding government resignation in Sofia, Bulgaria   -   Copyright  AP Photos
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This summer was a particularly hot one for demonstrations decrying alleged democratic deficiencies within EU countries.

Hungarians took to the street to demand media freedom, whilst in Bulgaria, protesters accused their government of corruption.

The European Commission committed itself to tackle rule of law backsliding when it took office last year, but for some MEPs now is the time to deliver on this promise and one way to do so is to restrict access to EU cash.

Daniel Freund, a German MEP from the Greens, told Euronews: "When the national system collapses or has been taken over by a group of people that puts the money in their own pocket then all of a sudden the EU has no more means to check where this money is going to avoid that EU taxpayers' money is being stolen.

"That needs to change and is the reason why as part of the next seven-year budget and as part of the recovery package for corona we now want to have a functioning mechanism that ties the fight against corruption and the respect of fundamental rights to the payment of the EU funds."

But one Eurosceptic Romanian MEP, Cristian Terhes, has argued the EU should not use the rule of law debate as a political weapon against conservative governments. He said that any wrongdoings can be dealt with by legal routes.

"Any neutral bystander can see that the process is heavily politicised. Instead of hearing the voices of experts, of judges, of lawyers and professors that are teaching law at European universities, we see or we hear politicians especially from the EPP and from Renew - talking about rule of law and very often everything they say has nothing to do with the rule of law principles," Terhes said.

The European Commission will publish its first rule of law report a few weeks after Ursula von der Leyen's first state of the union speech on Wednesday. Real change, however, relies on political will, which Hungarian MEP Katalin Cseh said could be in short supply.

"We are very much hoping that the commission can go forward from the all talk and no action, and no action plan that they pursued in the last years. We are very much waiting for the assessment that will come out in September about the rule of law situation in every EU country. And we are also curious if the rule of law guarantees in the budget can be implemented or not. Now is a test for the Von der Leyen Commission and I really hope for the sake of the entire European Union that they will pass this test," she said.