Respect for rule of law principles by all member states is an indispensable pillar of the European Union. It is a key value that all member states share, as is stated in the preamble to the Treaty on European Union. In order to strengthen this principle, a new mechanism will be introduced during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
A new peer review mechanism
The rule of law is not trivial, but rather the “guarantee of guarantees” that is fundamental to Europe as a community of values and law. During our Presidency, we want to launch a new dialogue-based mechanism whereby all member states will undergo a rule of law peer review.
This will be based on the first annual Rule of Law Report, published by the Commission on 30 September. The Report, around 500 pages long, consists of a general section on pan-European developments plus 27 country chapters. For the first time, all EU member states have been subject to the same scrutiny in terms of their justice systems, the fight against corruption, freedom of the media and the separation of powers. In compiling the Report, the Commission collaborated closely with both national authorities and civil-society organisations.
The German Presidency will use the publication of the Report to initiate a candid and critical discussion in the Council. The result is to be a new rule of law dialogue among member states, comprising two parts:
- an annual “horizontal discussion” on pan-European developments, firstly at the General Affairs Council on 13 October and
- a half-yearly “country-specific discussion”, each time on five country chapters of the Commission’s Report, firstly at the General Affairs Council on 10 November.
The aim is to create a permanent preventive mechanism alongside the existing reactive instruments. It is intended to enable an open and constructive dialogue on the rule of law and to promote a common understanding of rule of law principles. The European Parliament, as well as national parliaments and European civil society, will also be looking at the Commission’s annual Rule of Law Report.
Impact on the budget
At the European Council in July, the heads of state and government agreed for the first time in principle that the disbursement of EU budgetary funds can be linked to respect for rule of law standards. The implementation of this decision still needs to be detailed through an ordinance. To this end, the Council of the EU has now agreed on a position for the negotiations with the European Parliament. The German Presidency of the Council of the EU will work resolutely for the rapid, successful conclusion of these negotiations. The EU cannot permit any undermining of the rule of law.
A number of other mechanisms already exist to protect rule of law standards in the EU.
Article 7 procedures
Strengthening the rule of the law in the EU is an important aim of the German Council Presidency. The two Article 7 procedures initiated against Poland and Hungary were considered in the Council on 22 September and are being continued. We support the Commission as the guardian of the Treaties as it seeks to protect adherence to our common values with the instruments available to it.
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)
The CJEU plays an important role in safeguarding the rule of law in the European Union. It ensures that member states and the EU institutions respect EU law. For example, it can enforce the law through its judgements in infringement proceedings against member states. If national courts have doubts about the interpretation or validity of a piece of EU legislation, they can request clarification from the CJEU. With these preliminary rulings, the CJEU ensures that EU law is applied correctly throughout the Union and that national laws or administrative regulations comply with EU law.