Thursday

29th Oct 2020

EU Parliament considers streamlining rule-of-law tools

  • MEP Michal Simecka is proposing an overarching agreement to discipline rogue member states by all EU institutions (Photo: European Parliament)

An EU Parliament proposal plans to streamline existing European tools on policing the rule of law and democratic principles in member states, under a new umbrella mechanism.

The draft proposal , put forward by Slovak liberal MEP Michal Simecka, aims to combine together various processes the EU has created in recent years, in an effort to remedy democratic backsliding and breaches of EU values.

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"We lack a systematic, objective, evidence-based and binding monitoring of EU values and their protection in all member states," Simecka told MEPs in the civil liberties committee on Monday (13 July).

"We have lots of tools, but the toolbox is fairly fragmented," he said, adding "the EU is ill-equipped to stop backsliding in democracy and rule of law."

The EU has been struggling in the past few years to address the erosion of judicial independence, attacks on free media, and the curbing of democratic institutions - most particularly in Poland and Hungary.

Faced with criticism, it has introduced the rule-of-law mechanism, the annual rule-of-law review, the justice scoreboard, and the rule of law dialogue, to address the issue, along with the existing infringement probes and Article 7 sanctions process. But all of have only had limited results.

Simecka's draft proposal, based on previous calls by the parliament, puts all those procedures under one roof.

The planned mechanism would "provide coherence", supersede some tools, feed into the Article 7 procedure plus the planned link between access to EU funds and respect for rule of law.

It could also replace the so-called Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) - a monitoring of judicial reforms and fight against corruption specific to Bulgaria and Romania, the MEP added.

Simecka's idea would cover not just rule-of-law issues, but democratic and fundamental rights protected under the EU treaty, including equality and the protection of minorities.

It is planned to be based on an agreement with the commission and the council of member states in a so-called intra-institutional agreement, to be grounded in law.

Not dependent on 'goodwill'

The aim is that the protection of rule of law "would no longer be dependent on the goodwill of commission, or relevant commissioner, and the council presidency, no longer dependent on fluid political dynamics, but enshrined in the legally-binding document", Simicka told MEPs.

The core of the proposal would be an annual monitoring cycle, similar to the economic monitoring, containing country-specific recommendations with timelines and targets for implementation, linked to concrete "enforcement measures".

The parliament could vote on the final version in October, after which negotiations could start with the other EU institutions.

So far, member states' governments have been reluctant to sanction each other, and enforce EU rules.

Simecka told EUobserver with the escalating crisis of rule of law and democracy, more governments now acknowledge the gravity of the problem.

Real teeth

"Support is building for such a mechanism with a wide scope and real teeth," he said, adding that he hopes that the German EU presidency would take on the initiative.

Simecka told MEPs that the persisting rule of law crisis undermines the trusts that makes the EU work.

"We are seeing the rise of entrenchment of illiberal, oligarchic or even autocratic tendencies in a number of member states. […] This presents not just a threat to the EU values in those member states, but to the future survival of EU as we know it," he said.

"The EU can only remain a democratic peace project if its member states and national leaders are democratic as well," he said, adding that the functioning of the single market, cooperation on law enforcement and home affairs all suffer because of the erosion in democratic principles.

Hungary and Poland have rejected any new legal oversight of member states, and also oppose linking EU funds to the rule of law - a divisive issue among EU leaders who will meet this weekend for a summit.

MEP Vladimir Bilcik, the point man of the centre-right EPP party on the file, warned MEPs the mechanism should be "objective, politically non-biased, evidence based, and all member states should be assessed on equal footing".

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