The Civil Liberties Committee assesses the Commission’s 2021 rule of law report, which may be useful, but many of its aspects need to be enhanced so that it can be truly effective.
On Wednesday, the Civil Liberties Committee concluded its assessment of the Commission’s 2021 annual Rule of Law Report. The own-initiative report (approved with 54 votes for, 11 against and 1 abstention) reiterates that the EC’s work in this area is useful, highlighting at the same time that Parliament expects significant improvements. In particular, MEPs regret that, despite Parliament’s criticism, the Commission still has not expanded the scope of its reporting to include the entirety of Article 2 values, continues not to differentiate between systemic and individual breaches, and is yet to perform a more in-depth, transparent assessment, including taking actions in response to breaches.
Among other suggestions, in order for the Commission’s annual reports to become fully effective, Parliament calls for:
- moving away from “descriptive documentation” and opting for an “analytical and prescriptive” approach that would identify cross-cutting trends, including possible systemic vulnerabilities, at EU level;
- more methodological clarity, more time and improved involvement for stakeholders, and more EC resources allocated to the task;
- a direct link between the report’s findings and the activation of corrective mechanisms (e.g. Article 7, budget conditionality, and infringement procedures, as well as steps the establishment of a permanent, comprehensive mechanism;
- the creation of a quantitative “rule of law index”, in addition to the qualitative assessment, based on an assessment of member states’ performance at the end of each chapter; and
- the establishment of an annual “EU Values Week” each September.
The Civil Liberties Committee regrets that the report fails to clearly recognise the “deliberate process of the rule of law backsliding” in Poland and Hungary, and to identify other deficiencies in a number of EU countries. The text also highlights that simply presenting “deficiencies or breaches of a different nature or intensity” risks trivialising the most serious breaches.
The report also addresses the numerous concerns related to the state of EU values, in particular the intentional targeting of minority groups in some countries; threats to judicial independence and the primacy of EU law; SLAPPs; corruption, restrictions on the freedom of expression and media pluralism; challenges to EU democracy; the impact of COVID-related measures on civil liberties; threats to the fundamental rights of minorities, vulnerable groups, and asylum seekers; and attacks on women’s reproductive rights and the rights of LGBTIQ persons.
The rapporteur Terry Reintke (Greens/EFA, DE) commented: "The Commission must not be satisfied with merely describing violations of the rule of law. The report must have teeth in the future: the Commission must make its country-specific recommendations binding. Rule of law violations mentioned in the report must become a possible trigger for the conditionality mechanism leading to the cancellation of EU funds."
The report is expected to be tabled for adoption at the EP plenary session of 18-19 May in Brussels.