Photo: Flickr

EU Commissioner: Rule of law must be protected across all sectors

Democracy, the rule of law, equality and fundamental rights form the foundation of the European Union, and they must be protected across all sectors ranging from government to civil society, the EU justice commissioner told a conference organised by the Brussels and Budapest city councils on Tuesday.

The abandonment of the rule of law, which constitutes the legal foundations of the bloc and its member states, would mean the end of the European Union, Didier Reynders told the Cities for the Rule of Law conference in Brussels.

Guaranteeing the rule of law and justice along common values is the basis of trust among member states, the commissioner said. The principle of the rule of law is non-negotiable and must not be allowed to fall victim to political compromise, he added.

Reynders noted that the European Commission had the means to protect the rule of law, such as its annual rule-of-law report in which the body offers recommendations with a view to encouraging member states. The report is also a tool used to address general problems and stop the deterioration of the rule of law, he said.

The report forms the basis of dialogue on the state of the rule of law with the individual member states and on improving the situation with the participation of local councils and civil society, Reynders said. The EC plans to publish this year’s rule-of-law report in July, he said.

Dialogue always comes first, although it is not always enough, the commissioner said. A firm approach is needed, he said, insisting that the rule of law was under attack.

Reynders said the EC was prepared to use all the tools at its disposal to protect the rule of law. These, he noted, include the mechanism in the EU budget linking funding to the rule of law, which in Hungary’s case led to the suspension of cohesion funding for the country.

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony said the state of the rule of law was “a matter of life and death”. He said Hungary was “very far” from meeting the requirements EU candidate countries were expected to meet.

Karacsony said the tools established to protect the rule of law were “weak” and were being applied too slowly. He insisted this was a factor that had contributed to the emergence of a “hybrid regime” within the EU.

He said Budapest and most European cities were better at meeting the requirements for democracy and the rule of law than central governments. Capital cities can be considered “islands of the rule of law” in countries where the rule of law and democracy are lacking, he added.

But cities are under attack by means that include EU funding being withheld from them, Karacsony said. He said European capitals needed to cooperate on the distribution of EU funds at the local level.

French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield said Hungary and Poland were struggling with systemic problems when it came to the rule of law. She said the state of the rule of law had deteriorated so badly in Hungary that it was now hard to believe in an easy fix to the situation. Though it may seem like there is democracy in Hungary, the country is experiencing the slow establishment of “an authoritarian regime”, she insisted.

Leave a Reply