Rule of law breaches and how the European Union should respond is at the forefront of discussion in the European institutions this week. On Tuesday, 22 June, the European Council held hearings on the procedures of Article 7 of TEU in regards to defending the Rule of Law across Europe and the EU’s response in situations where there are breaches to fundamental rights and interference with an independent judiciary. The hearings discussed the rule of law in Poland regarding the state of play and the values of the European Union in Hungary as triggered by reasoned proposal of the European Commission
The European Parliament will debate and vote on the 2020 Rule of Law report at the plenary this week. The report urges the Council to trigger the Article 7 procedure so as to counteract serious violation of the rule of law and fundamental rights in Member States. The report also calls for the resumption of hearings under Article 7 so as to determine whether there are serious breaches to the rule of law by Member States. The report notes that there is no need for an unanimous vote to be initiated, which has been part of the issue for sanctions not being implemented. The report also reiterates the role of the Parliament to monitor, present and stay informed regarding the Article 7 procedure.
The European Commission, under the Presidency of Ursula von der Leyen, has pledged to respond to breaches to the rule of law in Member States, however, the Commission has delayed enforcement implementation until legal challenges have been resolved with the Member States and the European Court of Justice. The Commission has begun to impose sanctions in certain instances of rule of law breaches. Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, released a statement in July 2020 stating that Polish towns, which declared themselves LGBT-free zones, would be rejected from the EU Town Twinning programme. Since Hungary’s passing of a new anti-LGBT bill, Commissioner Dalli has reiterated that failure to “uphold the values of democracy or equality of the European Union” would result in projects not receiving funding.
EU Framework to strengthen the Rule of Law
EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights
23 – 24 June 2021: 2020 Rule of Law report at European Parliament
12 – 22 August 2021: World Pride
22 – 23 October 2021: Conference on the Future of Europe Plenary
The European Movement International position
As laid out in our policy position on “The Rule of Law ”, the European Movement International believes that compliance with the rule of law is essential to protecting and fostering democracy in the European Union and is key to its credibility. EMI proposes implementing a more effective framework to protect and uphold the rule of law in Europe through establishing an independent and transparent EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights, with a mandate to routinely monitor the situation of the rule of law in all of the Member States. The EU should use the Conference on the Future of Europe as an opportunity to engage with stakeholders and rethink the mechanisms the EU has in place to protect the respect of the values enshrined in Article 2 of the TEU and enhance their framework. Furthermore, we also recommend the enforcement of the existing rule of law mechanisms when there have been serious or consistent breaches to the rule of law through suspension of certain membership rights or by bringing breaches to the European Court of Justice. The EU needs to protect and strengthen democracy in Member States by ensuring that democratic, constitutional and legal framework are followed, as well as supporting civil society organisations to engage with citizens in the debate on decision-making processes.