Uphill battle still for rule of law in Europe

Today, the European Commission unveiled its fourth annual Rule of Law report mapping rule of law developments in Member States under four pillars: justice, anti-corruption, media freedom and pluralism, and broader institutional issues related to checks and balances.

The report assesses last year’s recommendations and provides new ad hoc recommendations to all 27 Member States. While nearly two-thirds of the specific recommendations issued to Member States in 2022 have already been followed up with, strong concerns regarding the rule of law persist in specific Member States, especially Hungary and Poland.

These two countries continue to lack judicial independence and a healthy media environment, while local civil society faces consistent threats and remains under attack. Even though slow progress has been noted in areas where the EU has threatened to freeze funds, there is concern those changes are only cosmetic and will not be thoroughly followed through in action. 

There will be follow-up discussions on the report in the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament, and at the national level in September and October 2023. Challenges identified by the previous Rule of Law reports have led to several new EU initiatives: in May 2023 the Commission adopted a package of measures to combat corruption and in June 2023 the Commission proposed a joint agreement to establish an interinstitutional ethics body.
Key Texts European Commission: 2023 Rule of Law Report European Parliament: Motion for a resolution on the 2022 Rule of Law Report Upcoming Dates14 July 2023: EMI Talking Europe with Ana Gallego Torres, Director General of DG Justice 17-18 July: LIBE meetings 
The European Movement International position

As we highlight in our latest policy position on the rule of law, compliance with the rule of law is key to protecting and fostering democracy in the EU and beyond.

The EU must continue withholding funds from the Hungarian government until it takes corrective measures against the continuous breaches to the rule of law.  With respect to the situation in Poland, the European Commission needs to trigger the same mechanism in response to concerns with regards to the rule of law in the country.

While the governments in Hungary and Poland are the main culprits of rule of law violations, other countries are also experiencing occurrences of serious democratic backsliding which must be appropriately addressed. The EU needs an independent and adequately equipped authority to monitor compliance with the EU’s fundamental values and the respect for the rule of law in all EU Member States.

In this context, the annual Rule of Law Reports by the European Commission should be further institutionalised, with Member States required to respond to and take actions to address the Commission’s recommendations without delay and by including countries negotiating accession in the Rule of Law Mechanism.  

Moreover, building on the outcome of the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), EU decision-making needs to shift from unanimity to qualified majority voting (QMV) in the Council for the enforcement of the rule of law framework, as well as for those policy areas to which competences have been conferred on by the EU Treaties. Shifting from unanimity to qualified majority voting in the Council would ensure not only the improvement of the democratic functioning of the EU, but it will also help address more effectively violations of the rule of law in Member States. 

No government is above the law. Member States must ensure that their judicial systems effectively apply EU law and that their national judiciaries are independent. For this reason, we call for the full application of the rule of law conditionality to the Multiannual Financial Framework and retroactively to any violations of the rule of law or of judicial independence, which have occurred since its introduction on 1 January 2021.