The report notes the existence of high standards of rule of law in many Member States, but notes that important challenges remain at EU level.
The report also examines developments in Member States’ emergency measures in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. The report assesses four main themes that are particularly relevant to the rule of law: national justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media pluralism and freedom, as well as other institutional issues related to control and balance systems, which are essential for the functioning of the rule of law. effective system of democratic governance.
The main findings concerning the situation of the rule of law in the Member States
1. Justice systems
Several Member States are currently undertaking reforms aimed at strengthening the independence of the judiciary and are taking steps to reduce the influence of the executive or the legislature on the judiciary. These include Member States where the independence of the judiciary is traditionally considered high or even very high. The country-specific assessments show that the situation of judicial independence is still worrying in some Member States, which is why in some cases the infringement procedure or the procedure provided for in Article 7 (1) has been initiated. Preparing justice systems for the digital age is another EU-wide challenge, and the current pandemic has helped accelerate the necessary digital reforms.
2. Anti-corruption frameworks
Several Member States have adopted comprehensive anti-corruption strategies, while in others such strategies are being developed. Effective implementation and monitoring of these strategies remain essential for progress. Many Member States have adopted or intend to take measures to strengthen their framework for the prevention of corruption and integrity, and some Member States have taken measures to strengthen the capacity of the criminal justice system to fight corruption. In contrast, in many Member States, ensuring the effectiveness of criminal investigation, prosecution and prosecution of corruption, including high-level corruption, remains a challenge.
3. Freedom and pluralism of the media
EU citizens generally enjoy high standards of media freedom and pluralism. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the media proved to be essential in combating misinformation. The report notes, however, that in some Member States there are concerns about resource efficiency and adequacy, as well as the risks of politicization by the media. The evaluations of certain countries also identified situations that raised serious concerns in terms of political pressure on the media. Last but not least, although in some countries practices have been developed and structures have been set up and measures taken to support and protect journalists, there are several Member States in which they and other media actors are subject to threats and attacks. because of their professional activity.
4. Institutional control and balance mechanisms
Institutional control and balance mechanisms are of crucial importance for the rule of law, as they ensure that the powers exercised by a state authority are subject to democratic control. In several Member States, constitutional reforms have been initiated to strengthen institutional control and balance mechanisms. Many Member States have also developed policies to ensure the systematic involvement of stakeholders and to ensure that structural reforms are the result of a broad debate in society. At the same time, the report shows that excessive use of accelerated and urgent legislative procedures can be worrying from the perspective of the rule of law. Across the EU, civil society continues to be a key player in defending the rule of law, and in most Member States there is a favorable climate for civil society action. However, in some Member States there have been cases where civil society has faced serious challenges as a result of legislation that has limited the access of civil society organizations to foreign funding or denigration campaigns.
Emergency measures taken in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic
As the pandemic has not ended, emergency regimes or emergency measures are still in place in several Member States. The report examines some of the issues that have arisen in national debates and in the context of the legal and political response to the crisis. For example, changing or suspending common national control and balance mechanisms can pose a particular threat to the rule of law. At the same time, there are several positive examples in which national court decisions or the involvement of ombudsmen have had a positive impact on emergency measures taken. The Commission will continue to monitor the situation until the emergency measures are completely withdrawn.
The next steps
The rule of law report will form the basis of the wider debate on the rule of law that will take place at European and national level. The Commission looks forward to addressing the identified issues related to the rule of law with the European Parliament and the Council, and considers that this report provides a solid basis for further interinstitutional cooperation.
The Commission also invites national parliaments and national authorities to initiate discussions on this report, including on the chapters devoted to each country, and to ask for each other’s help, in order to encourage further reforms and accept European solidarity.
Relevant stakeholders at national and EU level should, in turn, be involved. Building on the results of this dialogue on the 2020 report and benefiting from the experience gained in the first year of operation of the European rule of law mechanism, the Commission will begin preparations for the 2021 report, maintaining the momentum to strengthen the resilience of the rule of law. our democracies.
The new rule of law report aims to broaden the EU’s toolkit, adding a new preventive instrument, launching a debate with all stakeholders and laying the foundations for a culture of rule of law across the EU. The report should be an opportunity for all Member States to reflect on how the problems they face can be solved and how they can learn from each other’s experiences; the report should also show how the rule of law can be further strengthened, in full respect of national constitutional systems and traditions.
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, stated: “The rule of law and our common values form the foundation of our societies and are part of what defines us as Europeans. The rule of law protects citizens from the law of the powerful. We have very high standards of respect for the rule of law in the EU, but we also face various challenges. The European Commission will continue to work with national authorities to find solutions and ensure that citizens’ rights and freedoms are respected in their daily lives. “
Vice President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, stated: “Today, we complete our set of instruments on the rule of law with a new one, thus covering an important gap. For the first time, the new report applies a common grid to analyze the situation in all Member States, in order to identify trends in respect for the rule of law and help prevent serious problems. Every citizen deserves to have access to independent judges, to enjoy a free and pluralistic media and to have confidence that his or her fundamental rights are respected. Only when all these goals are achieved will we be able to truly consider ourselves a union of democracies. “
Commissioner for Justice and Consumers, Didier Reynders, stated: “The new rule of law report marks the beginning of an open and regular dialogue with each Member State, giving them a way to share good practice and take action before the problems escalate and become chronic. The aim is to lay the foundations throughout the European Union for a true culture of the rule of law and to launch a real debate at national and EU level. “