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Ursula von der Leyen, Tuesday in Brussels

BarcelonaYesterday the European Commission took an essential step forward to defend European rule of law within the borders of the Union. For the first time in its history it has blocked an amount from the EU budget for a country for failing to comply with a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and not having paid the fine it received. In this case it is a usual suspect, Poland, a country that had already been threatened many times and which has finally been deducted €14.5m for having refused to close a lignite mine in Turów, near the border with the Czech Republic, as ordered by the European authorities because of the environmental problems it was causing in the neighbouring country. This is a modest, almost symbolic figure, which corresponds to the fine of half a million euros a day imposed by the CJEU until Poland agreed to find an agreed solution with the Czech Republic regarding the mine. But, beyond the amount itself, the decision is a powerful message, a warning of what could happen, because Poland still has to pay a €69m fine, in this case for not wanting to back down over its judicial reform, and, above all, access to European funds is at stake.

This is, in fact, the ace up the European authorities' sleeve to punish Poland and force it to comply with European standards in terms of the rule of law or respect for minorities. Indeed, Poland expects to receive €36bn of European recovery funds, but the EU has not yet approved them precisely because of the lack of judicial independence in the country and its refusal to accept the primacy of European courts. This decision is now in the hands of the courts, because both Poland and Hungary consider it to be an illegal measure. Even so, the EU provided itself with a mechanism that would allow it to block the funds if any country fails to comply with EU rules.

This EU's political reinforcement is essential if it wants to become a leading international player, but it must be accompanied by other strategic measures such as the one approved this Tuesday by the European Commission with the aim of reducing European dependence on Asian microchips. The proposal in the form of a law presented by the European Commission sets an ambitious target, namely to produce 20% of the world's semiconductors by 2030 (currently 9%). This is the only way to avoid supply crises such as the one that has paralysed vehicle manufacturing across the continent, with dire consequences for the economy.

The pandemic and the energy crisis have already highlighted the need to be self-sufficient, and this has led to the need to review the "dependencies" on the outside world that make the EU vulnerable, such as digital sovereignty vis-à-vis American giants. Long-term political and strategic reinforcement is the only way to build a strong and future-proof EU.