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Poland, Hungary should go to EU court on rule of law, not block budget, Commission says

·2 min read

BRUSSELS, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Poland and Hungary should ask the European Union's top court to assess the link between access to EU money and observing the rule of law, instead of blocking the EU's 2021-2027 budget and recovery plan, the head of the European Commission said.

The suggestion by Ursula von der Leyen is one of the possible ways EU officials have been discussing informally to end the vetoes of Warsaw and Budapest that are holding up 1.8 trillion euros ($2.14 trillion) of EU funds to lift the economy of the 27-nation bloc.

Speaking to the European Parliament, Von der Leyen stressed that the EU's rule that the bloc's funds can only be sent to governments that observe the rule of law would be applied only to protect EU budget funds.

"We are talking here about the violations of the rule of law that are threatening the EU budget and only that," she said. "It is very difficult to imagine anybody in Europe who would possibly have anything against that principle."

Poland and Hungary, who are under formal EU investigation for undermining the independence of courts, media and non-governmental organisations, fear they risk losing access to tens of billions of euros over the next seven years.

"Anyone still in doubt has a clear path. They can go to the European Court of Justice and allow the new rules to be tested there," von der Leyen said.

"That is the place where differences of opinion about legislative texts are usually settled and it is not done at the expense of millions and millions of European citizens who are urgently waiting for our help," she said.

Resolving the issue is also in the interest of Poland and Hungary which are to receive one of the highest amounts per capita from the EU, badly needed to help their economies overcome the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. ($1 = 0.8399 euros) (Reporting by Jan Strupczewski, Editing by William Maclean)