Wednesday

1st Mar 2017

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

The Lake Chad Basin crisis

With no end in sight to the "tragedy", humanitarian agencies must call for international political and security engagement, the UN's head of migration says.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 20172018 European Year of Cultural Heritage Will Celebrate European History and Values
  2. UNICEFA Deadly Journey for Children: The Migration Route From North Africa to Europe
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsFreedom of Association and Expression Under Threat in Kazakhstan
  4. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Brussels on March 6th
  5. EURORDISJoin Rare Disease Day and Help Advocate for More Research on Rare Diseases
  6. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStudents Who Are Considered Fit Get Better Grades in School
  7. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  8. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  9. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  10. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  11. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow. Join Us on 23 March
  12. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  3. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  4. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  5. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  7. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  8. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  9. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"
  10. Malta EU 2017Landmark Deal Reached With European Parliament on Portability of Online Content
  11. Belgrade Security ForumBSF 2017: Building a Common Future in the Age of Uncertainty