Jus­tice com­mis­sioner links EU funds to ‘rule of law’

EU jus­tice com­mis­sioner Vera Jourova said on Tues­day that the EU should con­sider creat­ing stronger con­di­tion­al­ity be­tween the rule of law and the EU co­he­sion funds geared to­ward poorer mem­ber states.

The Malta Business Weekly - - FRONT PAGE -

The Czech com­mis­sioner in a speech in Helsinki out­lined how the EU ex­ec­u­tive could bet­ter up­hold the rule of law across the Euro­pean Union.

[Rule of law as a core value of the EU]

In Septem­ber, Pres­i­dent Juncker had his an­nual State of the Union speech and the rule of law fea­tured promi­nently in it.

To im­ple­ment the po­lit­i­cal agenda set out in the speech, only last week the Com­mis­sion adopted its work pro­gramme for 2018. One of the key pri­or­i­ties for next year is to look at ways how to strengthen the en­force­ment of rule of law in the Euro­pean Union.

We are also start­ing a very im­por­tant cy­cle of pre­par­ing and dis­cussing upon the next fi­nan­cial frame­work from 2020.

So now the time is ripe to dis­cuss ideas and pro­pose changes.

I want to talk about

• • • what does the rule of law mean in the Euro­pean Union; what place does the rule of law have in a Euro­pean democ­racy, and whether the EU should be do­ing some­thing to im­prove its tools in the con­text of rule of law.

What does the rule of law mean in the Euro­pean Union

The rule of law is a bedrock of Euro­pean democ­ra­cies and one of core val­ues of the Euro­pean Union. That is why the Ar­ti­cle 2 of the Treaty of the EU and its pre­am­ble re­call this prin­ci­ple.

It is true that the rule of law doesn’t have one def­i­ni­tion across the Mem­ber States. Its mean­ing will be a bit dif­fer­ent in Fin­land from the one in France or in the Czech Repub­lic.

But in the EU we have a com­mon un­der­stand­ing: with rule of law we mean that all pub­lic pow­ers act within the con­straints set out by law, in ac­cor­dance with the val­ues of democ­racy and fun­da­men­tal rights, and un­der the con­trol of in­de­pen­dent and im­par­tial courts and with re­spect to trans­parency and due process.

All el­e­ments that I just men­tioned would in­stinc­tively be as­so­ci­ated by many peo­ple to the pre­rog­a­tives of the na­tion state. But the rule of law is also im­por­tant for the Euro­pean Union. Ul­ti­mately, we are a group based on the vol­un­tary re­spect of the fun­da­men­tal val­ues such as the rule of law.

No­body forces us to be to­gether. We are not bound by the will of a dic­ta­tor; we don’t have a com­mon army or a com­mon lan­guage.

We are to­gether be­cause we be­lieve that we share th­ese ba­sic foun­da­tions. The foun­da­tions that many peo­ple to­day would even prob­a­bly ar­gue are pure com­mon sense.

But the rule of law is not guar­an­teed nor given once and for all. And, as of­ten in life, those who lost some­thing can ap­pre­ci­ate more what they had.

As I grew up in a com­mu­nist Cze­choslo­vakia I know how it feels to live in a coun­try with­out the rule of law, so I un­der­stand its im­por­tance to­day.

When I was grow­ing up, it didn’t cross my mind to even dream about equal­ity be­fore the law. Liv­ing on the East side of the Iron cur­tain meant that there were those who were more equal, for in­stance the party ap­pa­ratchiks or se­cret ser­vices. The only equal­ity I ex­pe­ri­enced was a forced egal­i­tar­i­an­ism.

The feel­ing of in­jus­tice was felt across the so­ci­ety.

Thank­fully, the pen­du­lum of his­tory swung to­wards democ­racy and to­day across the con­ti­nent we can ex­pe­ri­ence un­prece­dented peace and free­dom.

But the dis­cus­sion about the rule of law con­tin­ues in many EU coun­tries. There are peo­ple that say that the rule of law be­longs to in­ter­nal af­fairs and the EU shouldn’t ‘med­dle’ in it.

I would like to take a mo­ment to dis­pute this as­sump­tion.

This is a false premise, be­cause the Euro­pean law is not only up­held by the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice in Lux­em­bourg.

The na­tional courts are also ‘Union courts’ as the ECJ de­clared in the fa­mous, at least among stu­dents of EU law, Les Verts case al­ready in 1986. This is of huge im­por­tance. Just think of it. This means that the suc­cess of the EU de­pends on the proper func­tion­ing of the courts in Helsinki, in Sofia or in my home town of Tře­bíč.

This means that if one na­tional sys­tem of ju­di­ciary is bro­ken, the EU sys­tem is bro­ken.

The ju­di­cial sys­tem in the EU is like a chain of Christ­mas lights. When one light goes off, oth­ers don’t light up and the chain is dark.

I also hear from many cor­ners of Europe that the rule of law is an ab­stract con­cept dis­cussed by law pro­fes­sion­als and with no in­ter­est for the peo­ple.

Noth­ing can be fur­ther from the truth. The rule of law ac­tu­ally touches upon ev­ery­day lives of all us. Whether they are in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens seek­ing a job in an­other mem­ber state or peo­ple hop­ing that their gov­ern­ment trans­posed the di­rec­tive about clean air cor­rectly.

They all are count­ing on the same level of le­gal pro­tec­tion and the same ap­pli­ca­tion of law in every sin­gle mem­ber state.

They are all trust­ing that jus­tice pre­vails and the courts are im­par­tial.

With­out this trust the EU will be a in­com­plete EU.

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