Image copyright Reuters Image caption There is concern about large-scale firings of civil servants
The European Parliament has sued the Commission for failing to exercise powers to ensure countries abide by the rule of law.
The EU assembly’s legal affairs committee was angered last year when Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova confirmed that taking action against weakening democratic institutions was not possible.
But the Parliamentary legal affairs committee said Ms Jourova was wrong to reject a recommendation from the European Court of Justice.
The European Commission described the action as “defiance” and said it would defend its position.
The justice commissioner’s refusal to act over “cronyism and misuse of public funds” had led to a serious violation of “the Union’s sovereign and integral character”, the Parliament’s legal affairs committee said.
The assembly had referred the case to the European Court of Justice in June 2017.
At the time, the European Commission said that under EU law, the court could not make a ruling that would apply directly to a member state.
“Acting against states party to the EU acquis (law) is not the role of the court,” the Commission said.
But the legal affairs committee said that “the letter and spirit of the EU law guarantee legal aid”, while the ruling that “legal aid cannot be given to countries that are not deemed to be member states” was “not effective”.
The Commission has been pursuing so-called “special action” to set up independent tribunals in states that show lack of respect for the rule of law.
But these new courts could only oversee cases against member states concerned, which are not affected by the executive’s current powers to take action against European institutions.
The Legal Affairs Committee said this showed that the way the Commission handled matters relating to the rule of law should be reviewed.
“The misuse of public funds, politicisation of judges and democratic standards in relation to the appointment of judges all undermine the dignity of the institution of democracy and the rule of law,” said the committee in a statement.
It said the next step should be to invoke the rule of law clause under the EU treaty.
A text must be drawn up and presented to the plenary for approval in Brussels to finalise the case.
The European Parliament also wants the Commission to tighten up its rules for appointing candidates to the European Court of Justice.