Tuesday

20th Nov 2018

Opinion

Mr Juncker, be Bob the Builder

  • Juncker is not as helpless and empty-handed as he thinks himself. (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission's repeated admonishments of the Polish government for not respecting EU standards on the rule of law have done little this year.

Warning at the end of July of a systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland, the commission gave the Polish government three months to respond, or else.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

But there's the rub.

The Polish government has no intention of taking the measures required by the commission.

But that leaves the only tool left in the toolbox for making member states uphold democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights, the all or nothing "nuclear" option, of triggering the Article 7 procedure, that may ultimately lead to sanctions, such as suspension of voting rights.

The commission has the power to propose the activation of Article 7, which will be decided by four-fifths of the council, after obtaining the European Parliament's consent by a two-thirds majority.

Given the seriousness of the conclusion of the commission: a "systemic threat to the rule of law," you would expect the commission to take the biggest of the few instruments available.

Although Poland is currently in the sights of the commission, “systemic threats” to the rule of law are not confined to Poland alone.

Singling out one member state, while ignoring others, risks a double standard.

There is nothing like inconsistency in the application of rules to undermine trust and respect for the rule of law.

There isn't even a lack of capacity to monitor member states evenhandedly.

Two ways of looking at a problem

A recent interview with Belgian newspaper Le Soir, commission president Jean-Claude Juncker shows he's thrown in the towel.

He says, "things have slipped in a number of countries and we do not know where they would take us. In the European treaties, Article 7 provides possible sanctions against countries which would go awry with respect to the EU’s universal principles."

"It is a ‘nuclear option’. But there are already some member states which are saying that they will refuse to use it. This a priori refusal cancels de-facto Article 7," he went on to say,

"I note this with sadness and disappointment. I hope that people will not give free rein to those who will, in the end, harm them".

But at last month’s plenary, first vice president Timmermans gave a very different message when debating a proposal of the parliament for an EU pact on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights (DRF Pact).

He was confident the existing toolkit is sufficient to tackle serious threats and breaches of the core values and standards of the EU.

"We have a range of existing tools and actors that already provide a set of complementary and effective means to address rule of law issues," he said.

"The existing treaties give us the tools, so let us use them. At the end of the day, this is a very political process."

In essence, Juncker says: we have no more tools.

Timmermans, on the other hand, says: we have all the tools we need.

This makes the two out to be more Laurel and Hardy, than Bob the Builder.

Juncker has the power

But Juncker is not as helpless and empty-handed as he thinks himself.

He has the right and the duty, as custodian of the treaties, to use Article 7 if his commission notes a serious threat to the rule of law in one of the member states, independently of the positions in council or parliament.

He should embrace the proposal put forward by the parliament for a DRF Pact.

The DRF Pact foresees the monitoring of all member states on an equal footing, on an ongoing basis, rather than crisis-driven.

The annual "DRF health check" will closely involve the national parliaments, consult with a variety of independent experts and civil society and make use of a wide range of sources.

The proposal for an EU pact on democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights has the support of a broad and solid majority in the parliament (405 Members in favour, 171 against and 39 abstained).

In addition, the council is discussing options for strengthening the council rule of law dialogue.

Its deliberations reflect many of the principles underlying the parliament proposal.

There is even a group of 13 member states, dubbed "Friends of the Rule of Law group", taking a lead role in the evaluation.

So far from being helpless, Juncker has a more complete toolkit within reach and support in parliament and council.

All he needs to do is follow the momentum, put forward a proposal in response to the parliament's report, and give us new and effective ways to uphold democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights.

Jean-Claude Juncker, you can fix it!

Frank Engel (EPP, Luxembourg), György Schöpflin (EPP, Hungary), Birgit Sippel (S&D, Germany), Sophie in ‘t Veld (ALDE, The Netherlands), Barbara Spinelli (GUE/NGL, Italy), Ulrike Lunacek (Greens/ALE, Austria) are members of the European Parliament."

Juncker-Tusk: A clash of EU visions

The EU commission president may be right that Brexit is not an existential challenge to the EU, but rifts with the EU council chief over how to handle the divorce talks may well be.

Poland defies EU on rule of law

Prime minister Szydlo said the European Commission concerns over rule of law in Poland were political grudges.

Panic is not answer to EU's security challenges

EU foreign ministers must choose between contaminating their civilian missions and operations with panic over security and migration, and reaffirming the EU's core values as a global actor for peace and development.

EU must recognise new force for Balkans destabilisation

EU foreign ministers will discuss Bosnia and Herzegovina on Monday. The EU has the opportunity to show that it is not a political dwarf in the Balkans, where not only economic, but also political reforms are necessary.

News in Brief

  1. May to meet Juncker on Wednesday to finalise Brexit deal
  2. Future of EU's Mediterranean naval mission in doubt
  3. EU budget talks for 2019 collapse
  4. EU mulls new Russia sanctions over Ukraine 'elections'
  5. EU farm chief 'confident' sugar prices will recover
  6. Researcher: EU expert groups still imbalanced and opaque
  7. Nature groups disappointed by EU fishing deal
  8. DUP chief says Irish backstop was 'tactic' by EU

Why 'Spitzenkandidat' is probably here to stay

The power of the parliament to 'appoint' the president of the EU Commission is new, highly-contested - and not universally understood. In fact, even some of the lead candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker are against it.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Cyprus and Greece to create EU spy academy
  2. MEPs likely to delay vote on greater transparency
  3. Cold shoulder for Franco-German euro budget plan
  4. Whistleblower: Danske Bank gag stops me telling more
  5. Spain raises Gibraltar, as EU and UK talk post-2020 relationship
  6. Panic is not answer to EU's security challenges
  7. Dutch flesh out proposal for EU human rights sanctions
  8. EU cheerleaders go to Russia-occupied Ukraine

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us