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Debates
Monday, 5 October 2020 - Brussels Provisional edition

The establishment of an EU Mechanism on Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights (debate)
MPphoto
 

  Michal Šimečka, rapporteur. – Mr President, we are of course here to discuss the establishment of an EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights, but what we are really discussing – and should be debating – is the very future identity of the EU as a democratic peace project.

I grew up in Slovakia in the years after the Velvet Revolution. For people of my generation membership of the European Union basically meant a guarantee of life in freedom and democracy. The EU was meant to be a place where you don’t get imprisoned if you speak out freely, which is what the Communist regime did to my grandfather, who was a dissident intellectual. The EU was meant to be a place where you don’t get thrown out of your job for disagreeing with those in power, which is what happened to other members of my family.

But the problem is that this image of the EU, the image of my youth, the image of the EU as a guardian of democracy is now being shattered and instead it has developed a very high tolerance – an unacceptably high tolerance – for authoritarian politics. We have at least one Member State which can no longer be considered a democracy; we have another Member State – Poland – in which judges can be prosecuted for a verdict against the interests of the ruling party; and, in many other Member States, we have thousands on the street protesting against years of corruption and state capture, all of which begs the question where has the EU been while national governments have undermined democratic institutions or plundered public resources?

The proposal that we put before the plenary should put the EU in a position to do much more. What we need is a permanent, legally binding mechanism that, first of all, streamlines and makes more effective the rule of law instruments that we have; second, covers all aspects of Article 2 and all values enshrined there; and, third, ensures that compliance by Member States is not just reviewed periodically but also enforced. Enforcement action is precisely what has so far also been missing from the Commission’s otherwise thorough and very welcome report last week. But it is clear that monitoring alone will not bring back judicial independence in Poland, nor will it save the Index media in Hungary. We really we do need enforcement. For instance, in Poland, the Commission still hasn’t come up with a request to impose fines, despite the fact that the Polish Government is disrespecting the ruling of the European Court of Justice, and we can continue on and on.

But, equally importantly, the Council needs to stop diluting the budget conditionality proposal. We know that EU money has demonstrably fuelled the rise of authoritarian and corrupt politics in our Member States and this cannot continue. But the problem is that it will continue if the proposal of the German Presidency is adopted because it is weak and will not protect either the EU budget or the rule of law in Europe.

If the Commission and the Council are serious about restoring the EU as a community of shared values, I would expect them immediately to begin negotiations on the proposal that Parliament is putting forward for a binding mechanism as soon as possible. We know that there will be pushback and we know that some Member States might reject it outright, seeing as they are willing to hold the entire continent hostage to rule of law conditionality, but there is a piece of good news as well. The Council only needs a qualified majority to negotiate and adopt our proposal and therefore reclaim some of the EU’s aspiration for a democratic project.

(Applause)

 
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