Wednesday

6th Jul 2022

Paper tiger? EU roars in first rule-of-law report

  • Commissioners Vera Jourova and Dider Reynders introducing the report. Jourova called multiple breaches an 'undrinkable cocktail, even if the individual ingredients seems to be fine' (Photo: European Commission)

The EU commission on Wednesday (30 September) published its first overview on the judiciary, media freedoms, corruption and checks and balances in EU member states.

The annual rule of law review highlighted shortcomings in various member states, and particularly criticised Poland, calling judicial independence there a "serious concern".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It also condemned Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Slovakia for insufficiently ensuring courts' independence.

The commission also pointed to corruption scandals and deficiencies in anti-corruption efforts in Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Malta.

EU commission vice-president Vera Jourova said the report would serve as a preventive mechanism, to detect rule of law issues early on. She emphasised that if the rule of law is compromised in one member state, then that threatens the entire EU.

"When the rule of law is absent, or when there is a risk, there is a concrete impact of every single one of our lives," she told reporters.

The Czech commissioner said deficiencies in the justice system, anti-corruption efforts, media freedom and pluralism, and institutional checks and balances "often merge into an undrinkable cocktail, even if the individual ingredients seems to be fine".

However, the report will not lead to concrete action against any member state - although it could serve as the basis for further scrutiny of specific EU countries.

The commission said for concrete breaches of EU rules it will use its other legal instruments, such as the Article 7 sanctions probe for systemic issues, or infringement procedures on specific transgressions.

The report will also not be the basis when deciding if EU funds should be suspended for a member state breaking EU law, Jourova added.

Justice commissioner Didier Reynders acknowledged that the report does not contain new information, but gives an overview of the rule of law situation in Europe.

Issues in member states will be discussed among EU affairs ministers, with the Germany EU presidency initially organising discussions on Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Estonia later this year.

The process will take two-three years, Reynders said.

'Paper tiger'

Slovak liberal MEP Michal Simecka said it was important the commission now monitors rule of law breaches as closely as it checks debt and deficit levels in the EU, and that the "hypersensitive" issue of rule of law ceases to be a taboo among EU countries.

However, he told EUobserver, the review risks remaining a "paper tiger" if its results do not lead to consequences.

"The weakness of this monitoring is that it does not lead to any action.We are at a huge moment of rule of law crisis, and what we need besides monitoring is action," Simecka said, whose initiative for combining the EU's rule of law tools, similar to the bloc's economic review, will be voted by MEPs later this month.

The report was published the day after Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban called for the resignation of Jourova over her remarks on his government a German interview.

While it was Hungary which had earlier called for a rule of law scrutiny of all EU countries - after Poland and Hungary had first been put under an EU probe for breaking EU rules and values - on Wednesday Budapest dismissed it as "absurd", "unfounded" and "unbalanced".

In a statement, Hungary's government claimed the report was "written by organisations forming part of a centrally-financed international network engaged in a coordinated political campaign against Hungary", pointing the finger to the Open Society Foundations linked to US billionaire George Soros.

The EU report said that "there is a systematic lack of determined action to investigate and prosecute corruption cases involving high-level officials or their immediate circle" by the Hungarian authorities.

It also warned that media pluralism in the country is at "high risk", and independent media face systemic obstruction and intimidation, while state advertisements allow the government "to exert indirect political influence".

Budget block

The rule of law issue has become the major political obstacle to unlock the €1.85 trillion EU budget and coronavirus recovery fund.

On Wednesday, the majority of EU countries backed the German EU presidency's proposal on suspending EU funds in case of rule of law breaches.

It means negotiations with the parliament - which has to approve the long-term EU budget - can begin.

But crucially, those rejecting the budget-rule of law link - Hungary and Poland - and those in favour of a strong tool, namely the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and Luxembourg, did not back the German compromise.

EU countries stuck on rule of law-budget link

Divisions among EU governments remain between those who want to suspend EU funds if rule of law is not respected, and those who want to narrow down conditionality.

Spain's Sanchez in storm over judicial appointments bill

Spain's socialist-led coalition has proposed changing how members of the country's top judicial body, the General Council of the Judiciary, are appointed - triggering a political and judicial storm about the independence, and drawing 'double standards' complaints from Poland.

Column

'War on Women' needs forceful response, not glib statements

Some modest headway in recognising the unrelenting tide of discrimination and violence facing women worldwide was made at last week's largely self-congratulatory and mostly irrelevant G7 talk-fest. But no one mentioned abortion, just days after the Roe vs Wade decision.

Opinion

The euro — who's next?

Bulgaria's target date for joining the eurozone, 1 January 2024, seems elusive. The collapse of Kiril Petkov's government, likely fresh elections, with populists trying to score cheap points against the 'diktat of the eurocrats', might well delay accession.

News in Brief

  1. Alleged Copenhagen shooter tried calling helpline
  2. Socialist leader urges Czech PM to ratify Istanbul convention
  3. Scottish law chief casts doubt on referendum
  4. British PM faces mounting rebellion
  5. Russian military base near Finnish border emptied
  6. Euro slides to lowest level in two decades
  7. State intervention ends Norwegian oil and gas strike
  8. France repatriates 35 children from Syrian camp

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. Rising prices expose lack of coherent EU response
  2. Keeping gas as 'green' in taxonomy vote only helps Russia
  3. 'War on Women' needs forceful response, not glib statements
  4. Greece defends disputed media and migration track record
  5. MEPs adopt new digital 'rule book', amid surveillance doubts
  6. 'World is watching', as MEPs vote on green finance rules
  7. Turkey sends mixed signals on Sweden's entry into Nato
  8. EU Parliament sued over secrecy on Nazi MEP expenses

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us