Home » Democracy in Europe under pressure: The EU needs to defend the rule of law



Democracy in Europe under pressure: The EU needs to defend the rule of law

On 30 March 2023, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will gather in the Plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels to vote on a resolution on the 2022 Rule of Law Report – the rule of law situation in the European Union.

The Rule of Law Report examines developments across all 27 Member States, keeping track of four key areas under the rule of law: the justice system, the anti-corruption framework, media pluralism and other institutional issues related to checks and balances.

The main findings of the 2022 Rule of Law Report include concerns regarding the independence of the judiciary and persistent challenges regarding appointments in higher courts and for court president positions in some Member States. There are also concerns regarding the independence of prosecution services and disciplinary proceedings used to curtail judicial independence. Although the EU remains one of the least corrupt regions in the world, the report also flags serious issues related to corruption in certain Member States. In addition, the report states that there is still a persistent problem with media freedom and pluralism, especially with a lack of transparency, conflicts of interest and obstacles related to the access of public documents. The report also highlighted concerns regarding the lack of a formal framework to consult stakeholders, along with the fact that civil society organisations continue to face challenges with funding, negative narratives and restrictions in operating space in some Member States. The findings of the 2022 Rule of Law Report and Hungary’s only partial remedial action led to the Council’s decision to suspend €6.3 billion in December 2022, while in February 2023 the European Commission also referred Poland to the Court of Justice of the European Union due to its failure to address the Commission’s concerns about the independence of the Polish judiciary and violations of EU law by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal and its case law.

The European Commission will publish the 2023 Rule of Law Mechanism in July 2023, followed by follow-up discussions in the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament and at national levels in September and October 2023.

Key texts

European Commission: 2022 Rule of Law Report
European Parliament: Motion for a resolution on the 2022 Rule of Law Repor

Upcoming events

30 March 2023: Vote at the European Parliament Plenary on the 2022 Rule of Law Report
13 April 2023: Meeting of the LIBE committee

European Movement International’s Position

As we highlight in our latest policy position on the Rule of Law, compliance with the rule of law is essential to protecting and fostering democracy in the EU and beyond. 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 the Member States required to respond 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) and the resolution adopted by the European Parliament in June 2022, 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 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 that have occurred since its introduction on 1 January 2021. Additionally, rule of law safeguards need to be included in all legislation, in particular environmental law, to ensure effective implementation. The respect for the rule of law must also include a strong focus on the respect for social rights; workers’ and trade union rights are key human rights. This must be reflected in all rule of law mechanisms and safeguards at the EU level as well. Civil society also promotes active participation, good governance, transparency, and accountability. The EU should support civil society and social partners in their work and strengthen civil society’s capacity to monitor the rule of law in Member States. The longstanding role of social partners in setting, applying and enforcing these rights, particularly through social dialogue and collective bargaining, should be fully recognised.

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