By Jan Strupczewski
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament voted on Thursday to sue the European Commission unless the EU executive quickly applies new legislation that makes access to billions of EU funds conditional on respecting the rule of law.
Poland and Hungary, both under formal EU investigation for breaking the rule of law, stand to lose billions of euros in EU funds when the new regulation is applied.
In force since Jan, 1 but suspended in practice, the legislation is designed to safeguard EU money from misuse in cases where, for example, politicised courts do not guarantee a fair trial for a complaint about a tender for an EU-funded project.
The Commission has said it would only start acting on it once it prepares appropriate guidelines - a process that could be delayed by legal challenges to the regulation from Poland and Hungary.
Those challenges, in the EU court, could take years and the Commission does not want to issue its guidelines until the ruling.
"The longer the Commission waits, the worse the situation will get," said MEP Terry Reintke from the Greens Group.
"This is why we need to see this mechanism applied and the Commission needs to come out with a regulation on the rule of law, before it's too late to reverse the facts on the ground."
The Commission's guidelines are not necessary to apply the new law, but officials said they are part of a deal struck with Warsaw and Budapest, effectively postponing its application until after parliamentary elections in Hungary in 2022.
In a resolution passed by a wide majority of legislators, the European Parliament said such deals went against the Commission's role of the guardian of EU laws.
It gave the Commission until June 1 to write its guidelines or face a lawsuit in the EU's top court.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, during a decade in power, has used public money including EU funds to build a loyal business elite.
In Poland, the opposition and local governments say the ruling eurosceptic and nationalist coalition could be using the billions of euros from the EU's post-pandemic fund to finance their strongholds, while starving opposition regions of cash. The government has not addressed such concerns.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; ; editing by John Stonestreet)