Lessons learnt from the Commission’s 2020 rule of law report

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This article is brought to you in association with the European Parliament.


Parliament’s assessment of the Commission’s 2020 report on the rule of law provides ways to improve the mechanism so that it can better protect EU values.

During the plenary debate on Wednesday, a broad majority of speakers called on the Council and the Commission to take decisive action to address the deterioration of EU values in various member states. Most focused on specific issues such as the increased pressure on civil society and media freedom, and the protection of minorities and vulnerable groups. Others disagreed, arguing that the report should have focused on other issues, or that its approach is excessive. Catch up with the recorded debate here.

A more ambitious and effective approach

In the report by Domènec Ruiz Devesa (S&D, ES), adopted with 509 votes in favour, 152 against, and 28 abstentions on Thursday, Parliament welcomes the Commission’s findings on the state of the rule of law in the EU and each member state. However, it calls for a broader scope (encompassing all EU values and especially democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights which are mutually reinforcing and, when undermined, may pose a systemic threat to the Union) to be applied, and for more nuance in distinguishing systemic breaches from individual ones. The report, which is currently a standalone mechanism, should be one part of a permanent, comprehensive, and effective mechanism, MEPs urge, for example by including concrete recommendations and milestones linked to the Article 7 procedure, the budget conditionality mechanism, and infringement procedures.

Recent concerns

In the same text, MEPs also took stock of developments, and highlighted their priorities and concerns in protecting EU values. The resolution decries “the political pressure in Hungary and Poland […] to avoid national judges asking questions to the CJEU”, in contravention of the Treaties. It also addresses attempts in Poland to undermine the independence of the country’s Ombudsman, and Hungary’s failure to implement a Court of Justice of the EU ruling in relation to restrictions imposed on the financing of civil society organisations. MEPs urge the Commission to refer Hungary to the Court and to request dissuasive financial sanctions.

Quote

The rapporteur Domènec Ruiz Devesa (S&D, ES) commented: “I welcome the Commission’s efforts, and especially that it is examining the situation on the ground and not from Brussels. However, we expect a more ambitious approach for the upcoming 2021 report, so that the Commission can fulfil its duties as the guardian of EU values in their entirety. Beyond methodological improvements, the Commission and the Council need to find the political courage to stand up to autocrats that take advantage of our Union while undermining it.”

Next steps

The Commission’s 2021 report is expected to be published in July.

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