Rule of law

Photo: EbS European Commission

Photo: EbS European Commission

Spring has now definitely come to Brussels. The cherry-trees have bloomed for some time, and more flowers and leaves come every day. The sun is shining and the terraces of the cafés are filled up. The elections to the European Parliament are getting closer and thereby focus is shifting. Due to the campaigns for the elections and the end of the Commission’s mandate, the work of the Commission is somewhat shifting in character. We still have time to present yet a few legislative proposals to the Parliament before they disappear on their different campaigns, and some important proposals are still to be voted on. But it is also time to look back at what we have achieved under this past term and think about what challenges remain to be addressed.

An experience we have acquired is that the EU does not have enough tools today to address its internal lack of respect for the rule of law and the threat against fundamental values on which the EU is built upon, after a state has become a member of the Union. This could lead to problems of credibility since the EU always stresses human rights, respect for the rule of law etc in e.g. its negotiations for membership with third countries. Then we also need to have credible politics towards ourselves. For example in Hungary, the freedom of media and the judicial systems independence have been threatened. The EU and the Council of Europe have reacted strongly, and thanks to political persuasion and legal tools we have managed to make changes on this path. Meanwhile, it remains clear that we do not have enough tools at our disposal. There are not enough efficient tools that we can use before it goes as far as the EU having to exclude a Member State (Article 7 of the Treaty).

For many years, I have argued that the EU needs a mechanism applicable after a state has joined the Union; and a middle way between an infringement-procedure and the “nuclear alternative” of Article 7. This feels even more pressing considering the uprising of extreme parties. The EU was founded after Europe’s atrocious experiences from WWII. It is our task to ensure that no one is discriminated, or that the fundamental principles of democracy and the rule of law are threatened. It is therefore welcomed and pleasing that we, at today’s meeting with the Commissioners, decided upon a proposal against serious and systemic cases of crimes against the rule of law to implemented within the Treaties. It is better to prevent than to cure. Through dialogue, we want to deal with issues before they go out of control and before the prevention and sanction mechanisms of Article 7 have to be applied. This new instrument confirms that the rule of law is the core of our European community and that the Commission will play its part to defend it. (Link to more information)

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