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'There will be no coronavirus recovery fund without rule of law conditions,' says MEP Manfred Weber

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By Sandor Zsiros, Joanna Gill
Manfred Weber, European People's Party leader, MEP, Germany speaking to Euronews in  Brussels
Manfred Weber, European People's Party leader, MEP, Germany speaking to Euronews in Brussels   -   Copyright  Euronews

There will be no coronavirus recovery package without a binding mechanism on the rule of law, insists MEP Manfred Weber, the leader of the European Parliament's largest political group.

European leaders approved a €1.82 trillion budget and COVID-19 recovery package in July but MEPs now have to give it the green light. 

Some, like Weber, want a link between EU money and a country's respect for rule of law, which includes areas like justice, democracy and media freedom. 

Poland and Hungary have drawn the ire of Brussels over the past couple of years with regards to these issues. 

MEPs claim that "rule of law offenders" were holding the trillion-euro EU recovery package hostage over rule of law. However, countries in the firing line over so-called democratic backsliding claim it is the European Parliament blocking the budget talks.

"A lot of money is at stake," Weber told Euronews. "That means we have to have free media, to check whether on the local ground the authorities spend this money without corruption for example, and we need an independent judiciary, that guarantees that this is then followed up on the judiciary's side. There are basic principles for Europe and we will defend this."

Hungary and Poland often say the rule of law debate is a political weapon against conservative governments. 

For Weber, the fault lies with left-wing parties in Europe.

"I think in the past the left parties on [the] EU level made mistakes," he said, adding these groups were using the issue of rule of law for party political reasons.

"What we need is that politicians should shut up on the assessment of rule of law. It is up to judges, it is up to independent authorities to make a judgement whether rule of law is under pressure or not in the EU."

However, Weber has also been criticised, often by left-wing parties for the fact that Hungary's ruling Fidesz party sits within his European People's Party (EPP) grouping, despite many calls for it to be ousted.

"I never defended the problematic developments in Hungary," claims Weber. He explained the EPP also voted for triggering the Article 7 procedure against Budapest.

This process is seen as the EU's nuclear option, whereby a member state can be stripped of voting rights in the European Council.

Talks over the recovery package have intensified in recent days as the European Parliament has to vote on a final deal before it is implemented.

European leaders had hoped to move quickly on the EU recovery package in order to have the first payments by January 2021.