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 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.