MIL-OSI Europe: REPORT on the Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law Report – A9-0139/2022

20

Source: European Parliament

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

on the Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law Report

(2021/2180(INI))

The European Parliament,

 having regard to the Treaty on European Union (TEU), and in particular Article 2, Article 3(1), Article 3(3), second subparagraph, Article 4(3) and Articles 5, 6, 7, 11, 19 and 49 thereof,

 having regard to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), and in particular the articles thereof relating to respect for and the protection and promotion of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in the Union, including Articles 70, 258, 259, 260, 263, 265 and 267,

 having regard to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (hereinafter ‘the Charter’),

 having regard to the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), especially to the decisions in Cases C-156/21, Hungary v European Parliament and Council of the European Union[1] and C-157/21, Poland v European Parliament and Council of the European Union[2] on the measures for the protection of the Union budget,

 having regard to the Commission communication of 20 July 2021 on the 2021 Rule of Law Report – the rule of law situation in the European Union (COM(2021)0700),

 having regard to Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC[3] (General Data Protection Regulation),

 having regard to Directive (EU) 2018/1808 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 November 2018 amending Directive 2010/13/EU on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the provision of audiovisual media services (Audiovisual Media Services Directive) in view of changing market realities[4],

 having regard to Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2020/2092 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2020 on a general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget[5] (the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation),

 having regard to Regulation (EU) 2021/692 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 April 2021 establishing the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values programme and repealing Regulation (EU) No 1381/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council and Council Regulation (EU) No 390/2014[6],

 having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

 having regard to the UN instruments on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the recommendations and reports of the UN Universal Periodic Review, as well as the case-law of the UN treaty bodies and the special procedures of the Human Rights Council,

 having regard to the recommendations and reports of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, the Representative on Freedom of the Media and other bodies of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE),

 having regard to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the European Social Charter, the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee of Social Rights, and the conventions, recommendations, resolutions, opinions and reports of the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee of Ministers, the Human Rights Commissioner, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance, the Steering Committee on Anti-Discrimination, Diversity and Inclusion, the Venice Commission and other bodies of the Council of Europe,

 having regard to the Memorandum of Understanding between the Council of Europe and the European Union of 23 May 2007 and the Council conclusions of 8 July 2020 on EU priorities for cooperation with the Council of Europe 2020-2022,

 having regard to the Commission’s reasoned proposal for a Council decision of 20 December 2017 on the determination of a clear risk of a serious breach by the Republic of Poland of the rule of law, issued in accordance with Article 7(1) TEU (COM(2017)0835),

 having regard to the EU anti-racism action plan 2020-2025 entitled ‘A Union of equality’, launched on 18 September 2020 (COM(2020)0565),

 having regard to the report of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights of 9 November 2021 entitled ‘Antisemitism: Overview of antisemitic incidents recorded in the European Union 2010-2020’,

 having regard to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights’ report of 22 September 2021 entitled ‘Protecting civic space in the EU’, and its other reports, data and tools, in particular the European Union Fundamental Rights Information System (EFRIS),

 having regard to its resolution of 25 October 2016 with recommendations to the Commission on the establishment of an EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights[7],

 having regard to its resolution of 1 March 2018 on the Commission’s decision to activate Article 7(1) TEU as regards the situation in Poland[8],

 having regard to its resolution of 19 April 2018 on the need to establish a European Values Instrument to support civil society organisations which promote fundamental values within the European Union at local and national level[9],

 having regard to its resolution of 12 September 2018 on a proposal calling on the Council to determine, pursuant to Article 7(1) TEU, the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded[10],

 having regard to its resolution of 14 November 2018 on the need for a comprehensive EU mechanism for the protection of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights[11],

 having regard to its resolution of 16 January 2020 on ongoing hearings under Article 7(1) TEU regarding Poland and Hungary[12],

 having regard to its resolution of 8 October 2020 on the rule of law and fundamental rights in Bulgaria[13],

 having regard to its resolution of 7 October 2020 on the establishment of an EU Mechanism on Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights[14],

 having regard to its resolution of 13 November 2020 on the impact of COVID-19 measures on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights[15],

 having regard to its resolution of 26 November 2020 on the situation of Fundamental Rights in the European Union – Annual Report for the years 2018 – 2019[16],

 having regard to its resolution of 24 June 2021 on the Commission’s 2020 Rule of Law Report[17],

 having regard to its resolution of 8 July 2021 on the creation of guidelines for the application of the general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget[18],

 having regard to its resolution of 8 July 2021 on breaches of EU law and of the rights of LGBTIQ citizens in Hungary as a result of the legal changes adopted by the Hungarian Parliament[19],

 having regard to its resolution of 14 September 2021 on LGBTIQ rights in the EU[20],

 having regard to its resolution of 16 September 2021 on media freedom and further deterioration of the rule of law in Poland[21],

 having regard to its resolution of 20 October 2021 on Europe’s media in the digital decade: an action plan to support recovery and transformation[22],

 having regard to its resolution of 21 October 2021 on the rule of law crisis in Poland and the primacy of EU law[23],

 having regard to its resolution of 11 November 2021 on strengthening democracy and media freedom and pluralism in the EU: the undue use of actions under civil and criminal law to silence journalists, NGOs and civil society[24],

 having regard to its resolution of 11 November 2021 on the first anniversary of the de facto abortion ban in Poland[25],

 having regard to its resolution of 15 December 2021 on the evaluation of preventive measures for avoiding corruption, irregular spending and misuse of EU and national funds in case of emergency funds and crisis-related spending areas[26],

 having regard to its resolution of 16 December 2021 on fundamental rights and the rule of law in Slovenia, in particular the delayed nomination of EPPO prosecutors[27],

 having regard to its resolution of 9 March 2022 on foreign interference in all democratic processes in the European Union, including disinformation[28],

 having regard to Special Report 09/2021 of the European Court of Auditors of 3 June 2021 entitled ‘Disinformation affecting the EU: tackled but not tamed’,

 having regard to Special Report 01/2022 of the European Court of Auditors of 10 January 2022 entitled ‘EU support for the rule of law in the Western Balkans: despite efforts, fundamental problems persist’,

 having regard to Rule 54 of its Rules of Procedure,

 having regard to the opinions of the Committee on Budgetary Control, the Committee on Legal Affairs, the Committee on Budgets, the Committee on Constitutional Affairs and the Committee on Petitions,

 having regard to the report of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (A9-0139/2022),

A. whereas the Union is founded on the common values enshrined in Article 2 TEU of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities  – values that are common to the EU Member States and to which candidate countries must adhere in order to join the Union as part of the Copenhagen criteria, which cannot be disregarded or reinterpreted after accession; whereas democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights are mutually reinforcing values which, when undermined, may pose a systemic threat to the Union and the rights and freedoms of its citizens; whereas respect for the rule of law is binding on the Union as a whole and its Member States at all levels of governance, including subnational entities;

B. whereas the principle of sincere cooperation in Article 4(3) TEU places an obligation on the Union and the Member States to assist each other in carrying out obligations which arise from the Treaties in full mutual respect, and on Member States to take any appropriate measure, general or in particular, to ensure the fulfilment of the obligations arising from the Treaties or resulting from the acts of the institutions of the Union;

C. whereas the annual rule of law review cycle is a welcome addition to the tools available to preserve the Article 2 TEU values by addressing the situation in all EU Member States in a report based on four pillars with a direct bearing on respect for the rule of law;

D. whereas without concrete recommendations and effective follow-up, the rule of law report may fail to prevent, detect and address effectively and in a timely manner systemic challenges and backsliding on the rule of law, as witnessed in several EU Member States in recent years;

E. whereas the Member States introduced emergency measures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic; whereas, in order to be lawful, these needed to respect the principles of necessity and proportionality when restricting fundamental rights or basic freedoms; whereas some Member States have seen a negative trend on the rule of law as governments have used the extraordinary measures as an excuse to weaken democratic checks and balances;

F. whereas it is necessary to strengthen and streamline existing mechanisms and to develop a single comprehensive  EU mechanism to protect democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights effectively and to ensure that Article 2 TEU values are upheld throughout the Union as well as by candidate countries, albeit with different monitoring regimes, so that Member States are prevented from developing domestic law that runs counter to the protection of Article 2 TEU;

G. whereas the rights to freedom of expression and information and the right to public participation are among the cornerstones of democracy;

H. whereas the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on Combating Hate Speech has prepared a draft Committee of Ministers recommendation on combating hate speech, which provides non-binding guidance on how to address the phenomenon and is currently awaiting adoption in 2022[29]; whereas the newly established Committee of Experts on Combating Hate Crime is tasked with preparing, by the end of 2023, a draft Committee of Ministers recommendation on hate crime;

I. whereas the Citizens, Equality, Rights, and Values programme allows for direct flexible support to civil society actors promoting and protecting the values enshrined in Article 2 TEU at local, national and European level;

The 2021 Rule of Law Report: general considerations

1. Welcomes the Commission’s second annual rule of law report; notes that Parliament makes regular use of this annual report as a source of information and input when discussing the rule of law situation in a specific Member State; regrets the fact that the Commission did not address in full the recommendations made by Parliament in its resolution of 24 June 2021 on the Commission’s 2020 Rule of Law Report, in particular the expansion of the scope of its reporting to cover all values enshrined in Article 2 TEU, the differentiation between systemic and individual breaches, and a more in-depth, transparent assessment, including taking actions in response to breaches; considers that these recommendations remain valid and reiterates them;

2. Welcomes the fact that the functioning of justice systems, the anti-corruption framework, media pluralism and certain institutional issues related to checks and balances, including civic space to a certain extent, are all part of the Commission’s annual report; regrets, however, that not all rule of law issues were covered in sufficient detail or breadth in the 2021 report; suggests that the Commission analyse rule of law issues in each pillar through the prism of all the values enshrined in Article 2 TEU and fundamental rights as described in the Charter; calls for the inclusion in the annual report of other important elements of the Venice Commission’s 2016 Rule of Law Checklist, such as the prevention of abuse of powers, equality before the law and non-discrimination and access to justice including aspects of the right to a fair trial; reiterates its call on the Commission to include in future reports an evaluation of prison conditions;

3. Notes with satisfaction that the report contains country-specific chapters; commends the Commission’s efforts to engage with national governments, national parliaments and the European Parliament, as well as civil society and other national actors; calls on the Member States to cooperate proactively with the Commission and make public their written submissions, so as to enable independent experts and civil society groups to fact-check and react to them and to ensure full transparency; encourages the Commission to continue deepening the analysis, and invites the Commission to ensure proper resources for this, including human resources, in a bid to reach out to a wide and diverse range of stakeholders; believes that more time and importance should be given to the Commission’s country visits, especially on site; calls on the Commission to raise greater awareness of these visits among the public in order to foster a rule of law culture at national level; welcomes the visits conducted by the Commission to national parliaments in order to present the findings of the report;

Methodology

4. Stresses the fact that all Member States are scrutinised according to the same indicators and methodology, with no discrimination against any Member State; calls on the Commission to elaborate on its indicators used to assess the Member States’ rule of law situation; calls on the Commission to establish an annual EU Values Week each September, during which the report is presented to the European Parliament and national parliaments at the same time and is better integrated within the EU Justice Scoreboard, the fundamental rights report of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, and the Media Pluralism Monitor; is of the opinion that the rule of law report currently serves as a descriptive documentation of the situation in the Member States, but that it should be an analytical and prescriptive instrument in order to fulfil its preventive and mitigation purposes; stresses that a thorough analysis of the state of play in the Member States requires an overall analysis and evaluation of the rule of law in the Member States; emphasises that presenting deficiencies or breaches of a different nature or intensity risks trivialising the most serious breaches of the rule of law; urges the Commission to differentiate its reporting by distinguishing between systemic and deliberate breaches of the rule of law and isolated breaches in a clearer and more comprehensible way;

5. Regrets the fact that the report fails to clearly recognise the deliberate process of the rule of law backsliding in countries subject to ongoing Article 7(1) TEU procedures, notably Poland and Hungary, and to identify rule of law deficiencies in a number of Member States; calls on the Commission to make clear that when the Article 2 TEU values are being systematically, deliberately, gravely and permanently  violated over a period of time, Member States could fail to meet all criteria that define a democracy and become authoritarian regimes;

6. Regrets the fact that several Member States, in particular Hungary and Poland, had to be mentioned several times by the Commission as points of concern in the synthesis report and that no tangible improvements have been made since the report was published; recalls that since June 2021 Parliament has also addressed the rule of law situation in Hungary, Poland and Slovenia in its plenary resolutions; further recalls that Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs’ Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights Monitoring Group and the Committee on Budgetary Control have also addressed problems in several Member States; stresses that, after having conducted several ad-hoc delegations to some of these Member States, it has become clear that the situation of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights in these Member States is far worse than what was described by the Commission in its report; believes that in order to better identify backsliding countries, the Commission should carry out a more comprehensive assessment of the same elements in all country chapters;

7. Calls on the Commission to conclude each country chapter with an assessment of the Member States’ performance vis-à-vis the individual pillars of the report, indicating the extent to which the conditions of the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation have been fulfilled; calls, therefore, on the Commission to develop, in addition to the qualitative assessment, a rule of law index for the different pillars based on an objective, accessible, transparent, legible and non-discriminatory system for presentation and comparative analysis, to be conducted by independent experts, which could signal the level of respect for the rule of law in the Member States;

8. Considers that the annual report should identify cross-cutting trends, including possible  systemic vulnerabilities, at EU level; asks the Commission to identify instances where measures or practices that undermine the rule of law in one Member State become or risk becoming blueprints for others; highlights that the intentional targeting of minority groups’ rights in some Member States has created and established momentum elsewhere, as can be evidenced by backtracking on the rights of women, LGBTIQ persons and other minority groups; calls on the Commission, furthermore, to highlight the negative effect that breaches of the rule of law can have on the Union as a whole;

9. Considers that the report should go beyond annual snapshots and provide an evolving and dynamic view of respect for or backsliding on the rule of law in the justice systems of all Member States; commends the effort of the 2021 report to compare the situation with that of the 2020 report; believes that it is necessary to identify clearly positive and negative trends as regards the rule of law situation and provide an analysis of the underlying reasons for that;

10. Considers that a new separate chapter on the Union’s institutions, which would assess the situation in relation to separation of powers, accountability and checks and balances, would be desirable;

Assessment and recommendations

11. Considers that the 2021 report could have provided clearer assessments, stating whether there were deficiencies, a risk of a serious breach or an actual breach of Article 2 TEU values in each of the pillars analysed in the country chapters; invites the Commission to include an assessment of all rule of law measures implemented in the previous year, accompanied by an analysis of their effectiveness and possible avenues for improvement; calls for a more integrated analysis on the interlinkages between the four pillars and of how combined deficiencies may amount to breaches or risks of breaches of Article 2 TEU values; reiterates the importance of using direct, unambiguous language, and of clearly underlining the issue at hand in line with the Commission’s position;

12. Welcomes the Commission’s intention to include country-specific recommendations in the 2022 report; calls on the Commission to accompany such recommendations with deadlines for implementation, targets and concrete actions to be taken; calls on the Commission to include in subsequent reports information on progress made on the implementation of its recommendations, and, in addition, to make it part of the structured dialogue with Parliament throughout the year; calls on the Commission to ensure that its annual reports also focus on any relevant country-specific recommendations for the European Semester, notably those linked to the independence of the judiciary and the public prosecutor and to fighting corruption and ensuring transparency and integrity;

13. Recommends that the Commission indicates next to each of its recommendations the non-exhaustive list of tools which are appropriate to use by  EU institutions in case the shortcomings are not remedied; calls on the Commission  to not hesitate in using those tools, especially when there is no trust in a quick implementation of the recommendations or a risk of further deterioration, without waiting for the next annual reporting cycle;

Scope

14. Regrets the fact that both the 2020 and the 2021 reports fail to fully encompass the Article 2 TEU values of democracy and fundamental rights, which are immediately affected when countries start backsliding on the rule of law; reiterates the intrinsic link between the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights;

Justice systems

15. Emphasises that judicial accountability, prosecutorial and judicial independence and the enforcement of judgments are crucial components of the rule of law; deplores the serious and structural problems regarding judicial independence in certain Member States; stresses the fundamental role of the legal professions in ensuring the protection of fundamental rights and strengthening the rule of law; calls on Member States to protect judges and prosecutors from political attacks and pressures that attempt to undermine their work and insists that Member States must fully comply with Union and international law regarding judicial independence; calls on the Commission to include concrete recommendations in its 2022 report in order to ensure the independence of the judiciary in all Member States, and to also cover the independence of lawyers and bar associations in the annual report, as they are essential for independent justice systems;

16. Recalls that Union law has primacy over national law regardless of the way in which national justice systems are organised; calls on the Commission to closely monitor the rulings of national courts regarding the primacy of EU law over national legislation and in particular the incompatibility of certain articles of the Treaties with national constitutions; urges the Commission to ensure concrete, immediate and adequate responses to refusals to implement and respect CJEU rulings and report back to Parliament on the actions taken with regard to this;

17. Underlines the important role of the councils of the judiciary in safeguarding judicial independence; points out that several Member States have long-lasting problems regarding the composition of their councils of the judiciary and appointment of judges, which are sometimes vulnerable to undue political interference; encourages Member States to systematically ask the opinion of the Venice Commission in case it seeks to adapt the composition and functioning of these bodies and to follow up on those recommendations; considers it necessary for the Commission to evaluate such follow-up in the annual report;

18. Points out that the prosecution service is a key element in fighting crime, corruption and abuse of power; stresses the need for safeguards to be put in place to preserve the independence of the prosecution service and individual prosecutors so that they are free from undue political pressure, especially from the government, while meeting necessary conditions of accountability to prevent abuse or negligence; expresses its total solidarity and full support for all victims of crime;

19. Points out that strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) not only severely undermine the right of effective access to justice for their victims, and thereby the rule of law, but also constitute a misuse of Member States’ justice systems and legal frameworks, especially by hampering the ability of Member States to successfully address existing challenges such as the length of proceedings and the quality of justice systems, as well as caseload administration and case backlogs;

Anti-corruption framework

20. Reiterates its view that corruption is a serious threat to democracy, European funds and the rule of law; is deeply concerned by the increasing level of corruption and deterioration observed in certain Member States, the continued emergence of corruption cases involving high-level officials and politicians and the infiltration of organised crime in the economy and public sector; welcomes the information included in the 2021 rule of law report on this matter and calls for more clarification in future reports on whether EU funds have been affected;

21. Urges the Commission to update and enhance the Union’s anti-corruption policy and instruments, including by providing for a uniform definition of the crime of corruption and by creating common standards and benchmarks and ensuring their proper implementation and enforcement; recalls the importance for the Member States of engaging with the EPPO and actively supporting its tasks; calls on Member States that have not done so yet to join the EPPO; welcomes the sending by the Commission of letters of formal notice to almost all Member States for lack of transposition of the Whistleblower Protection Directive[30];

Freedom of expression and information, media freedom and pluralism

22. Recalls that media freedom and pluralism, including high-quality, sustainably and transparently financed and independent news media, both traditional and digital, independent journalists, fact-checkers and researchers, and strong public service media are essential to democracy, a guarantee against abuse of power and the best antidote to disinformation; expresses concern for the political independence of the media in some Member States as editorial lines reflect the strong polarisation of the political scene;

23. Is alarmed by the increasingly hostile environment in which journalists and media actors are operating inside many Member States, particularly when their work focuses on the misuse of power, corruption, fundamental rights violations and criminal activities; recalls that journalists and media outlets are increasingly subjected to intimidation, threats (including on social media), criminal charges, physical attacks, violent incidents and murder in some Member States; condemns the oppressive strategies employed by some Member States’ governments such as the use of SLAPPs and smear campaigns, as well as increasing state control over public media, civil society and academic institutions, leading to self-censorship and the growing deterioration of media and academic freedom; recalls that at the time of her assassination, investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was facing 47 civil and criminal defamation lawsuits, many of which her family continues to face; warns that these unacceptable developments may have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and freedom of the press and should not be allowed to set precedent both within the Union and for Union candidate and potential candidate countries;

24. Regrets that the 2021 report does not reflect the gravity of these trends, especially related to state control, strategic lawsuits and smear campaigns by certain Member States; urges the Commission to improve the media-related chapters by providing an assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of the national frameworks for the protection of media freedom, media pluralism and transparency of media ownership, to introduce Union legislation against the use of SLAPPs establishing minimum standards and to present an ambitious legal framework to counter the growing politicisation of the media in certain Member States in the upcoming Media Freedom Act; stresses that the report should include a thorough assessment of the independence of Member States’ audiovisual media services regulators, which under Union law must be independent of their respective governments; calls on the Commission to ensure additional and more flexible funding for independent, investigative journalism in the Union;

25. Stresses the importance of editorially independent public service media to provide high-quality, impartial and free coverage of public affairs, especially during elections; calls on Member States to ensure stable, open, transparent, sustainable and adequate funding for public service media on a multi-annual basis in order to guarantee their quality and independence from governmental, political, economic and other pressures; regrets that public service media are omitted from the annual report; calls on the Commission to review public service media thoroughly in its future reports;

26. Observes that fake news and the resulting misinformation aimed at EU citizens is a threat to democracy and the rule of law in the Union, as the spread of disinformation polarises and weakens our democracy; welcomes the Commission’s description in the annual report of political pressure and influence on the media and calls on the Commission to describe more clearly the systematic campaigns of disinformation and foreign interference aimed at reducing public confidence in state institutions and in the independent media; acknowledges that global online platforms may have a vast disruptive impact on the media sector; stresses, in this respect, that current legislation does not entirely provide for a fair environment in the online ecosystem, such as in the fight against disinformation and for algorithmic accountability; considers that the adoption of relevant legislation, notably the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act, was a step in the right direction, but that more needs to be done in the European Media Act to create fair conditions in the light of the digital transformation of the media sector and the spread of online platforms;

27. Stresses that media freedom is closely related to artistic and academic freedom; deplores the fact that, in some Member States, freedom of expression, freedom of the arts and freedom of assembly are severely curtailed and restricted; underlines that the independence of education systems is under threat when the autonomous organisational structure of its institutions is not guaranteed; calls on the Commission to include all aspects of freedom of expression in its rule of law report;

Democracy and checks and balances

28. Defends the position that the principle of the separation of powers is essential to the effective functioning of the state, including the effective, independent, impartial and efficient functioning of justice systems across the Union, and that it requires institutions to refrain from exercising any pressure on judges and prosecutors, especially from political and economic levels;

29. Underlines that fair and free elections are among the absolute minimum standards for a functioning democracy and that every election process in the Union should be without undue influence and irregularities; stresses that in case of the observation by the OSCE that elections have not taken place in a fair and free manner, concrete actions must be taken, including under the Article 7(1) TEU procedure; urges the Commission and the Member States to take all measures necessary when the risk of manipulation of elections in a Member State is identified, whether by state, foreign or private actors;

30. Recalls that the exercise of fundamental freedoms, including the right to be critical in public, is a core element of a free and democratic society; expresses its concern about the shrinking civic space in various Member States, manifested through the use of SLAPPs against and surveillance of media and journalists, human rights defenders, civil society actors and activists, and political opponents; welcomes the Commission’s commitment to propose a directive against abusive litigation targeting journalists and rights defenders and emphasises that the scope must be comprehensive enough to encompass all those who are rights defenders, including individual activists;

31. Stresses that the illegal use of Pegasus and equivalent spyware by Member States against journalists, lawyers opposition politicians and other persons poses a direct threat to democracy, the rule of law and human rights; calls on the Commission to assess the abuse of surveillance tools and its impact on democratic processes within the Union as well as potential breaches of Article 2 TEU values and the Charter of Fundamental Rights;

32. Believes that the situation of the civic space in the Member States deserves a separate chapter in the report and the creation of a ‘European civic space index’, given civil society’s central importance for maintaining a fully democratic and inclusive society based on respect for human rights and considering the challenges faced by civil society in various Member States, which include legislative and administrative measures, restricted access to funding and smear campaigns;

33. Recommends that the Commission develop the annual report’s fourth pillar on ‘other institutional issues linked to checks and balances’ into a pillar on democracy and checks and balances, assessing elements such as potential threats to democratic processes in the Union and the Member States, including manipulation of elections;

Impact of COVID-19 measures on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights

34. Recalls the strong impact of measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including emergency regimes and decree-laws, on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights within the Union, in particular in the areas of justice, media freedom and anti-corruption;

35. Regrets the nature and the excessive use of emergency measures during the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the lack of ex-post control of such measures by some national parliaments, and even the closure of parliaments in numerous Member States, which has increased the power of governments and led to a lack of accountability and transparency of the executive;

36. Recalls that the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on both access to justice and the efficiency of national courts, including the partial closure of national courts; highlights that the extraordinary situation imposed by the pandemic showed that there is an urgent need to modernise justice proceedings and introduce digital elements in order to increase the efficiency of justice systems and facilitate access to legal aid and information;

37. Welcomes the fact that the report includes a section on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the rule of law; stresses that monitoring of the use and proportionality of these measures should be continued until all measures are lifted without any exceptions; notes in this regard the risk of misuse of funds from the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility; reiterates that these funds can only be distributed once these concerns have been fully addressed; urges the Commission to assess in due course whether measures taken by Member States were indeed time-limited, necessary and proportionate, while observing checks and balances; invites the Commission to set out recommendations to help the Member States mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic in the areas of justice, anti-corruption and media freedom;

Fundamental rights and equality

38. Stresses with concern the fact that women and people in vulnerable situations, including persons with disabilities, children, religious minorities, particularly at a time of rising antisemitism, antigypsyism and anti-Muslim hatred in Europe, Romani people, people of African and Asian descent and other persons belonging to ethnic and linguistic minorities, migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, LGBTIQ persons and elderly people, especially people living in marginalised settlements, continue to see their rights not being fully respected across the Union and continue to be subjected to discriminatory practices; emphasises the obvious link between deteriorating rule of law standards and violations of fundamental rights and minority rights, such as the use of excessive force by law enforcement authorities during protests and at the Union borders; recalls that in some circumstances, Member States deliberately resort to measures which are questionable from the perspective of the rule of law, such as legislation adopted in fast-track procedures without public consultation or even, in exceptional cases, constitutional changes as a way to legitimise discriminatory policies that could otherwise not be legislated upon, such as provisions that specifically target LGBTIQ persons or the imposition of a near-total ban on abortion; recalls that Member States have a responsibility towards individuals put in vulnerable situations and that they should provide them with safety and protection from discrimination; strongly reiterates its call on the Commission to include within the scope of future reports an in-depth assessment of the persistent violations of fundamental rights throughout the Union, including equality and the rights of persons belonging to minorities; calls on the Union institutions, in the meantime, to read the annual reports on the rule of law in the light of the reports on fundamental rights published by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency;

39. Regrets that some Member States have not fully and correctly incorporated into national law the Council Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia[31], and that the provisions of the Racial Equality Directive[32] are still not being fully implemented in all Member States; recommends that more attention be paid to political and media discourses fuelling hatred against minorities and the direct impact these have on the adoption of discriminatory laws or practices that erode the rule of law for all, including in the area of counter-terrorism and security policies in the light of the George Floyd resolution[33] adopted by Parliament in 2020;

40. Expresses particular concern about the deterioration of the situation of the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women in some Member States, including the imposition of highly restrictive laws on abortion, and the continued and systematic attacks on the fundamental rights of LGBTIQ persons, reinforced by the deterioration of the rule of law in several Member States; regrets that these developments are not consistently reflected in the Commission’s rule of law report; calls on the Commission to systematically address these issues in all relevant country reports and the synthesis report;

41. Welcomes the infringement procedures initiated by the Commission in relation to Hungary and Poland as part of the July 2021 infringement package concerning respect for the human rights of LGBTIQ persons and breaches of Union law; notes that this is the first time the Commission has specifically initiated infringement procedures to safeguard the rights of LGBTIQ persons;

42. Notes with concern the numerous reports of significant and systematic violations of the fundamental rights of migrants and asylum seekers across the Union and particularly at its external borders; deplores the fact that several Member States have adopted national legislation which severely limits the rights of asylum seekers and in some cases even poses a threat to the principle of non-refoulement and the right to effective remedy; regrets that, despite calls from Parliament, the Commission did not finalise its assessment of the compatibility of numerous national legislative measures in the field of asylum and migration with Union law; reiterates that respect for fundamental rights such as the rights to asylum and to effective remedy is integral to the proper functioning of the rule of law;

Sources

43. Calls on the Commission to further strengthen the regular, inclusive and structured dialogue with governments and national parliaments, NGOs, national human rights institutions, ombudspersons, equality bodies, professional associations and other stakeholders and to be more transparent regarding the criteria used to select information from those stakeholders in the process of drafting its annual reports; considers that civil society organisations should be closely involved in all phases of the review cycle through a transparent process, based on clear criteria; highlights that thematically structured consultations would increase the efficiency of the process  and  the amount of valuable feedback; welcomes the fact  that the consultation questionnaire now allows stakeholders to report aspects beyond the scope envisaged by the Commission, and calls on the Commission to adapt the structure of national reports if needed; calls on the Commission to review and improve online tools for stakeholder input and to be flexible regarding available space limits;

44. Considers that the time limits for consultation with civil society were too short or ill-timed in the past and should be suitably adapted and flexible in order to allow for complete and comprehensive input; points out that this has made it more difficult for stakeholders to prepare and plan their contributions and awareness-raising activities, taking into account the limits on their capacities and their financial resources, in particular if the consultation coincides with annual holidays; invites the Commission to introduce the opportunity of year-round consultation for civil society instead of focusing mainly on time-limited calls for input; welcomes the fact that the Commission  allows multilingual submissions in all the official Union languages; calls on the Commission to define and publish in advance its timeline for the upcoming report, setting dates for the several steps in the process including a calendar of country visits as well as the publication date of the report; notes that consultation can be further substantiated and encourages the Commission to follow-up with civil society actors on the input they provide;

45. Encourages the Commission to ensure proper follow-up, within the framework of the annual report exercise, on petitions and other expressions of individual citizens’ concerns and testimonies about rule of law deficiencies; believes that with a view to strengthening the rule of law culture and the engagement of EU institutions with citizens, participatory forums and structures should be set up to identify trends and to provide greater visibility of the threats to and deficiencies and breaches of the values enshrined in Article 2 TEU across the Union;

46. Recalls that the Commission should continue to take into account relevant information from pertinent sources and recognised institutions in a systematic manner; recalls that the findings of relevant international bodies, such as those under the auspices of the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe, should be taken into account; calls on the Commission to take better account of the data and findings from relevant indexes such as the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) project, the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index and the Varieties of Democracy (V-DEM) project;

47. Welcomes the Council agreement to modify the mandate of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) as a step forward; calls on the Commission to use this momentum and to invite the  FRA to provide methodological advice and conduct comparative research to add detail in key areas of the annual report, bearing in mind that the right to a fair trial, freedom of expression and other fundamental rights have intrinsic links with the rule of law, in addition to the contributions the Agency already makes, for instance through EFRIS and its reports on civic space;

48. Considers that cooperation with the Council of Europe and other international organisations is of particular relevance for advancing democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in the EU; calls on the Commission to analyse systematically data on non-compliance with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and views of the UN Treaty Bodies concerning individual communications;

Democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights mechanism

49. Regrets the reluctance of the Commission and the Council to respond positively to Parliament’s call, in its resolution of 7 October 2020, for a joint EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights, which should cover the full scope of Article 2 TEU values; reiterates its call on the Commission and the Council to immediately enter into negotiations with Parliament on an interinstitutional agreement;

50. Recalls its position regarding the involvement of a panel of independent experts to advise the three institutions, in close cooperation with the FRA; asks its Bureau, in light of the reluctance of the Commission and the Council, to organise a public procurement procedure in order to create such a panel under the auspices of Parliament, in line with the commitment undertaken in its resolution of 24 June 2021 on the Commission’s 2020 Rule of Law Report , in order to advise Parliament on compliance with Article 2 TEU values in different Member States and to show by example how such a panel could work in practice;

51. Reiterates its call on the Commission to consider a more comprehensive and ambitious revision of the FRA Regulation[34]; calls on the Commission, therefore, to explore in the long-term the full potential of developing the FRA in accordance with principles relating to the status and functioning of national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights (the Paris Principles) in order for it to become a fully independent body providing impartial and publicly available positions on country-specific situations in the field of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights; underlines that such development should go hand in hand with an increase in available resources;

Complementarity with other rule of law instruments

52. Reiterates that the annual report must be fit to serve as a an important source and reference document for deciding whether to activate one or several relevant tools such as Article 7 TEU, the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation, other instruments available under EU financial legislation and the applicable sector-specific and financial rules to effectively protect the EU budget, the Rule of Law Framework or infringement procedures, including expedited procedures, applications for interim measures before the CJEU and actions regarding non-implementation of CJEU judgments; calls on the Commission to explicitly link these instruments to identified or possible rule of law issues in the report; calls on the institutions to activate such tools and instruments, including the Rule of Law Conditionality Mechanism, without delay in order to provide proactive support for the rule of law and tackle democratic backsliding in the Union, since the Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law Report contains multiple and detailed examples of breaches of the rule of law that fall within the scope of the Conditionality Regulation; reiterates its call on the Commission to create a direct link between the annual rule of law reports, together with other sources on the rule of law, and the Rule of Law Conditionality Mechanism;

53. Recalls that infringement procedures are the core instrument to protect and defend EU law and the common values enshrined in Article 2 TEU; notes with concern that the number of infringement procedures launched by the Commission has plummeted since 2004; is surprised by the fact that infringement procedures are not triggered systematically at least as soon as the relevant infringement is documented in the annual report; deplores the Commission’s reluctance to actively and systematically monitor the implementation of EU law and to exhaust the possibilities of infringement procedures against Member States as the instrument most tailored to resolve the issues efficiently and without delay; notes that this reluctance resulted in calls on Member States to initiate inter-State cases in accordance with Article 259 TFEU; is concerned that without systematic and timely application the preventive capacity of infringement procedures declines; calls for the report to include an overview of all enforcement actions taken by the Commission for each Member State, including pending infringement procedures, as well as the state of compliance with the provisional measures and rulings of the CJEU and the ECtHR, feeding into a comprehensive application of the EU Justice Scoreboard;

54. Recalls the importance of preliminary rulings on the rule of law; takes the view that the relevant case-law of the CJEU has helped to define the rule of law further and could serve the Commission to further refine its benchmarks against which to assess the situation of the rule of law in the Member States;

55. Is concerned by the persistent failure by some Members States, including Hungary and Poland, to implement domestic, CJEU and ECtHR judgements, which contributes to the erosion of the rule of law; stresses that the non-implementation of judgments can lead to human rights violations being left without remedy; highlights that this may create a perception in the public that judgments can be disregarded, undermining the independence of the judiciary and general trust in the force of fair adjudication; calls on the Commission to continue reporting on the respective country chapters about the implementation of judgments by Member States in cases of partial or lack of implementation; encourages the Commission to engage with authorities in order to find suitable solutions for complete implementation and to update the information on an annual basis; recalls that the failure to implement the CJEU’s Coman & Hamilton judgment[35] resulted in the plaintiffs having to resort to the ECtHR for redress;

56. Recalls the importance of the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation where breaches of the principles of the rule of law affect or seriously risk affecting the sound financial management of the Union budget or the protection of the financial interests of the Union; welcomes the judgments of the CJEU of 16 February 2022 and its findings that the Union indeed has competences regarding the rule of law in the Member States, that the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation is in line with Union law, and dismissing the actions brought by Hungary and Poland against the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation; reiterates its call on the Commission to take immediate action under the Regulation, a tool that has been in force since January 2021;

57. Considers that the annual report is the most appropriate place to dedicate a section to the conducting of relevant analysis under the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation; urges the Commission to launch the procedure enshrined in Article 6(1) of the Regulation at least in the cases of Poland and Hungary; recalls that the applicability, purpose and scope of the Regulation are clearly defined and do not need to be supported by further explanations; condemns the Commission’s decision to continue to draft guidelines even after the CJEU ruling confirming the legality and validity of the Regulation; calls on the Commission to ensure, possibly by means of a legislative proposal, that application of Article 6 of the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation does not directly or indirectly affect citizens, given that those responsible for breaches of the rule of law are government representatives or heads of state, and that those funds remaining in the consolidated Union budget may be accessed directly by local public institutions or private entities; calls on the Commission to apply the Common Provisions Regulation and the Financial Regulation more stringently in order to tackle the discriminatory use of EU funds, in particular any use of a politically motivated nature and to explore the full potential of those instruments and the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation to protect democracy, the rule law and fundamental rights, thereby ensuring that Union funds are not used for initiatives that do not comply with the Union values enshrined in Article 2 TEU, while respecting the interests of final beneficiaries which are not government entities;

58. Is concerned about the Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law Report’s findings that, in some countries, the state-sponsored harassment and intimidation of LGBTIQ organisations affects their ability to access funding; calls on the Commission to assess the issue more closely and to ensure through the necessary means that the non-discrimination principle governing access to Union funds is fully complied with everywhere in the Union; considers that these findings reinforce Parliament’s long-standing position that the scope of the rule of law report should be broadened to include all Article 2 TEU values;

59. Strongly regrets the inability of the Council to make meaningful progress in ongoing Article 7(1) TEU procedures; urges the Council to ensure that hearings take place at least once per Presidency during ongoing Article 7 procedures and also to address new developments affecting the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights; emphasises that there is no need for unanimity in the Council in order to identify a clear risk of a serious breach of Union values under Article 7(1) TEU, nor to address concrete recommendations to the Member States in question and provide deadlines for the implementation of those recommendations; reiterates its call on the Council to do so, underlining that any further delaying of such action would amount to a breach of the rule of law principle by the Council itself; insists that Parliament’s role and competences be respected;

60. Takes note of the country-specific discussions that have taken place in the General Affairs Council on the basis of the Commission’s annual rule of law reports in the framework of the Council’s annual Rule of Law Dialogue; suggests that these discussions be focused on the Member States with the most pressing rule of law issues in the first place, while keeping the practice of alphabetical order; emphasises that increased transparency would enhance the rule of law dialogue within the Union and therefore invites the Council to make these country-specific discussions public, including detailed public conclusions;

61. Strongly condemns Member States’ authorities that refuse to engage in the Commission’s annual Rule of Law Dialogue; considers any such refusal to be grounds enough for the Commission to accelerate and refine further the examination of the rule of law situation in the countries concerned; is strongly of the opinion that the rule of law cycle can be effective only if the principle of sincere cooperation set out in Article 4(3) TEU is equally respected and applied by the European institutions and the Member States;

62. Urges the Commission to actively participate in public debates at local, regional and national level and to invest more in awareness-raising about the Union’s values enshrined in Article 2 TEU and applicable tools, including the annual report, especially in those countries where there are serious concerns; underlines the importance of strategic communication to counter anti-democracy narratives, and of addressing these narratives by better explaining Union actions; calls on the Commission, therefore, to organise communication campaigns about the importance of respecting the rule of law; calls on the Commission to launch a dedicated programme that supports innovative initiatives with the aim of promoting formal education, in particular among legal professionals, as well as informal education with regard to the rule of law and democratic institutions among EU citizens of all ages;

63. Commits itself to engaging in regular consultations with the Member States’ governments and parliaments on findings of the annual report; calls on the Member States to ensure that their representatives at the highest possible level take part in exchanges with Parliament on the rule of law; strongly regrets the Polish Sejm’s refusal to meet the European Parliament’s cross-committee mission in February 2022 and the lack of response to the official invitation, going directly against Article 9 of Protocol (No 1) to the EU Treaties on the role of national parliaments in the European Union;

64. Stresses that internal rule of law deficiencies may have a detrimental effect on the credibility of the Union’s foreign policy, in particular towards its immediate neighbourhood and candidates and potential candidates for Union membership;

65. Highlights that checks and balances at Union level should also be independently assessed; commits, to that end, to request a Venice Commission study on key principles of democracy in Union governance, in particular the separation of powers, accountability and checks and balances;

°

° °

66. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the Council of Europe and the governments and parliaments of the Member States.

 

ANNEX: LIST OF ENTITIES OR PERSONS FROM WHOM THE RAPPORTEUR HAS RECEIVED INPUT

The following list is drawn up on a purely voluntary basis under the exclusive responsibility of the rapporteur. The rapporteur has received input from the following entities or persons in the preparation of the report, until the adoption thereof in committee:

 

 

 

Entity and/or person

Laurent Pech, Professor of European Law and Head of the Law & Politics Department, Middlesex University London; Senior Research Fellow, CEU Democracy Institute

Petra Bard, Associate professor, Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Law; Researcher, CEU Department of Legal Studies and CEU Democracy Institute, Fernand Braudel Fellow, European University Institute

 

 

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)

THEMIS Judges Association (Poland)

Human Rights Watch (Europe & Central Asia Division)

Hungarian Helsinki Committee (Hungary)

Háttér Society (Hungary)

Society of Journalists (Poland)

IUSTITIA Judges Association (Poland)

 

Kampania Przeciw Homofobii | Campaign Against Homophobia (Poland)

Wolne Sady – Free Courts Inititive (Poland)

National Youth Council (Germany)

Democracy Reporting International

 

International Press Institute

European Civic Forum

European Partnership for democracy

Youth Forum

Transparency International EU

Scholars at Risk Europe

Amnesty International

ILGA-Europe

Equinox – Initiative for Racial Justice

European Network Against Racism

Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

Fundamental Rights Agency

 

 

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON BUDGETARY CONTROL (16.3.2022)

for the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs

on the Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law Report

(2021/2180(INI))

Rapporteur for opinion (*): Petri Sarvamaa

 (*) Associated committee – Rule 57 of the Rules of Procedure

 

 

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Budgetary Control calls on the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

1. Underlines that the Union’s budget and financial interests must be implemented and protected in accordance with the general principles embedded in the Union Treaties, in particular the values in Article 2 TEU, and with the principle of sound financial management enshrined in Article 317 TFEU and in Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2018/1046 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 July 2018 (the Financial Regulation); highlights that the rule of law is both a guiding value and an essential precondition for compliance with those principles;

2. Recalls that Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2020/2092 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2020 on a general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget (the Conditionality Regulation) integrated the conditionality mechanism into a wider framework, requiring the Commission to use its own annual rule of law reports as a source for its objective assessments under the Regulation; calls, once again, on the Commission to implement the Conditionality Regulation without any further delay by sending written notifications within the meaning of Article 6(1) of the Regulation to the Member States concerned; recalls that for budget-related measures in the event of violations of the rule of law in a Member State, the competences of parliamentary committees should be determined on the basis of Annex VI of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure if the infringements under the Conditionality Regulation procedure are dealt with in Parliament;

3. Welcomes the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to reject the actions brought by Hungary and Poland against the Conditionality Regulation; deplores the time wasted since its entry into force by the Commission, who unilaterally decided to abide by non-binding European Council conclusions, which led Parliament to take action under Article 265 TFEU for failure to act; highlights that the Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law Report contains multiple and detailed examples of breaches of the rule of law that fall within the scope of the Conditionality Regulation, which should have led the Commission to trigger the conditionality mechanism a long time ago;

4. Strongly regrets the fact that the Commission’s failure to act since January 2021 has led to the deterioration of the rule of law situation in several Member States, as shown in the Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law Report;

5. Recalls its resolution of 8 July 2021 on the creation of guidelines for the application of the Conditionality Regulation; insists that a more direct link between the Commission’s annual rule of law report and the triggering of the Conditionality Regulation should be established, for example by including in the annual rule of law reports a section dedicated to cases where rule of law breaches in a Member State have affected or seriously risk affecting the sound financial management of the Union budget or the protection of the Union’s financial interests in a sufficiently direct way; calls on the Commission to present in its future reports an assessment of the fulfilment of the conditions of the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation, and a summary of the actions undertaken at national or EU level to address such cases, as well as to what extent they have protected the Union’s budget;

6. Regrets that the Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law Report remains mainly descriptive and does not provide sufficient analysis or envisaged remedies, which undermines its preventive role; recalls its request to the Commission to include country-specific recommendations on how to address the concerns identified or remedy rule of law breaches, including concrete actions and deadlines for implementation, as well as to follow up on the implementation of its recommendations and the remedial actions; stresses that the annual reports fail to make a clear distinction between Member States with isolated shortcomings and those with systemic rule of law deficiencies; calls on the Commission to make this distinction in future annual reports in order to transform it into a comprehensive instrument to be used by Member States to fix the identified rule of law breaches; recalls that the Commission should align its recommendations with concrete Union tools for cases where Member States fail to implement the remedial actions;

7. Stresses that the four areas assessed in the 27 country chapters of the Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law Report (the justice system, the anti-corruption framework, media pluralism, and other institutional checks and balances) are key interdependent pillars for upholding the rule of law, fighting fraud and corruption and protecting the Union’s financial interests; is of the opinion that other important elements of the Venice Commission’s 2016 Rule of Law Checklist should be included in the evaluation, particularly a chapter on shrinking civic space; welcomes the evaluation of the effects of COVID-19 on the four issues assessed; highlights the importance of continuing this evaluation in future annual rule of law reports to contribute to streamlining anti-corruption measures in pandemic-related areas, such as recovery funds, emergency legislation and medical care; points out that the COVID-19 pandemic has shortened legislative processes and reduced parliamentary debate and shortened or stopped consultation of civil society and other stakeholders;

8. Considers that the European Union should lead by example in its respect for the rule of law principles; reiterates, therefore, its call on the Commission to include in its annual rule of law report an assessment of the EU institutions’ performance in the areas addressed by the report, where applicable;

9. Points out that measures taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic often involve exceptional and necessary flexibility in administrative rules and controls in the interests of rapid reaction, and welcomes the fact that the subsequent risks for the rule of law and for the fight against corruption were mitigated in some cases by safeguards built into the national emergency regimes; recalls in this regard Parliament’s resolution of 15 December 2021 on the evaluation of preventive measures for avoiding corruption, irregular spending and misuse of EU and national funds in case of emergency funds and crisis-related spending areas; stresses that in emergency situations such as the COVID-19 outbreak, the health sector is particularly exposed to corruption with regard to public procurement, medical-related services and COVID-19 fraud;

10. Highlights that rule of law breaches in Member States can undermine economic and social recovery, particularly when affecting EU instruments for structural reforms such as the Recovery and Resilience Facility and the Structural Funds; asks the Commission to provide information in the annual rule of law reports on the relevant reform priorities included in the national Recovery and Resilience Plans that contribute to protecting the EU budget and the Union’s financial interests in the four areas assessed;

11. Reiterates that the fight against corruption requires that breaches of the law be effectively pursued by investigative and prosecution services, that national courts be independent and that the decisions of the CJEU be respected; points out that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the national justice systems’ vulnerability to disruption in emergency situations and stresses, therefore, the importance of investing in human and financial resources and digitalisation, and addressing structural obstacles, in order to improve significantly their efficiency and resilience;

12. Underlines that corruption prevention policies cover many fields, typically including ethical rules, awareness-raising measures, rules on asset disclosures, incompatibilities and conflicts of interest, public procurement, internal control mechanisms, rules on lobbying, and revolving doors; calls for further corruption prevention measures to be taken at EU level, including transparency of ownership structures and prohibition of involvement of offshore or shell companies in the spending of EU funds; welcomes the Commission’s adoption of the anti-money laundering (AML) package of proposals; calls on the EU institutions to be ambitious in their negotiations and to reach an agreement as quickly as possible, particularly on the creation of a new European AML authority with strong direct supervisory powers over the riskiest obliged financial entities and on clear rules on beneficial ownership transparency; reiterates the role of national measures in preventing fraud and corruption as well as in recovering the profit from those cases; welcomes in this regard the information included in the 2021 Rule of Law Report about cases of corruption involving high-level officials in Member States and calls for provision of more clarification in future reports with regard to whether EU funds have been affected; considers that the EU institutions need to be fully equipped to prevent and investigate fraud and corruption;

13. Reiterates its call on the Commission to assess not only the existence but the effectiveness of the national anti-corruption legislation, policies and strategies, including key elements such as clear and measurable objectives, adequate budgetary resources, regular evaluations and well-defined responsibilities for specialised institutions; appreciates that the report comments on the overall good performance of Member States in the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index and, in this regard, welcomes the fact that ten Member States are in the top twenty of the countries perceived as least corrupt in the world and another fourteen Member States remain above average or have improved their scores; deeply regrets, however, that some others have registered a significant deterioration in perceived corruption levels;

14. Notes with great concern the deteriorating situation of freedom of expression, protection of the right to information and protection of journalists in 2021 compared with 2020, according to the Media Pluralism Monitor; recalls that media pluralism and media freedom are essential for the protection of the EU’s financial interests, as investigative journalism is often at the source of the identification of issues such as corruption, fraud or conflicts of interest in the use of EU funds;

15. Stresses that transparency, access to public information, media freedom and pluralism, the protection of whistleblowers and an overall culture of integrity in public life are key to preventing and detecting corruption, as they facilitate public scrutiny and maintain public trust; expresses its concern about deteriorating developments in these areas in several Member States; calls on the Commission, in coordination with the relevant EU and national institutions and bodies, to act against the specific breaches it has identified in its previous annual rule of law reports, so as not to affect citizens and businesses not guilty of acts of corruption;

16. Is concerned about the Commission’s findings in its 2021 Rule of Law Report that, in some countries, the state-sponsored harassment and intimidation of LGBTI organisations is affecting their ability to access funding; calls on the Commission to take a closer look at the issue and to make sure that the non-discrimination principle governing the access to EU funds is fully complied with, everywhere in the EU; considers that these findings reinforce the long-standing position of Parliament that the scope of the rule of law report should be broadened to include all Article 2 TEU values;

17. Welcomes the fact that the 2021 report pays particular attention to the financing of political parties due to its importance in shaping a European electoral space and its influence on civil society; is concerned that political party financing can be used as a conduit for corruption, and supports the importance of transparency and the rigour of regulation; calls on the Commission to maintain its focus on this issue in future reports including, where necessary, on reforms that may affect compliance with the requirements for political parties that are members of European political parties;

18. Welcomes the variety of sources used by the Commission to draw up its assessment in the 2021 Rule of Law Report, including from civil society organisations and NGOs; highlights, in this regard, the key role played by these grassroots organisations in identifying and reporting breaches of the rule of law at national and local level;

19. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to use the Commission’s annual rule of law reports and their findings to resolutely fight against systemic corruption, and to use all effective instruments available under EU financial legislation and the applicable sector-specific and financial rules for preventing, combating and sanctioning corruption and fighting fraud, including where the latter existed before the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as for regularly monitoring the use of public funds, including Recovery and Resilience Facility funds;

20. Is concerned that in many Member States, the lack of adequate resources allocated for investigating corruption and prosecution authorities has made it c particularly difficult to hire or retain highly specialised personnel; points out that public officials need appropriate support, particularly in emergency situations, in order to secure the quality of the public administration and ensure that authorities apply the law and implement court decisions correctly; reiterates that uniform, up-to-date and consolidated statistics across all Member States are instrumental to track the comparative success of the investigation and prosecution of corruption offences; calls, therefore, on the Commission to use its annual reports to support the Union-wide harmonisation of definitions of such offences, as well as the better use of data sets in order to obtain comparative data across the EU on the treatment of corruption cases;

21. Emphasises that during the state of emergency direct public procurement was possible, especially for health material and equipment, without a great deal of transparency and without regard for legal limits in the field of public procurement; calls on the Commission and the competent EU and national institutions to investigate potential errors in procurement made during the state of emergency;

22. Regrets the fact that the report fails to clearly recognise the deliberate process of the rule of law backsliding in Poland and Hungary, which could result in further backsliding in those two Member States and seriously risk affecting other Member States as well;

23. Welcomes the fact that civil society was consulted during the drafting process; stresses that civil society actors can provide valuable input for the assessment of country-specific situations and provide a more critical view than the government concerned; notes, however, that the consultation process could be improved by ensuring, among other things, follow-up with civil society actors on their input given, sufficiently long time frames for providing input and a coherent annual publication cycle, as well as reconsidering the format of the current one-size-fits-all questionnaire for providing input; encourages the Commission to seek further input from civil society on how to optimise the consultation process for future reports;

24. Regrets that the draft country chapters were only shared with the respective Member State’s government, giving members of the other national parliaments the chance to provide input only after the final report had been published; stresses the importance of consulting a comprehensive spectrum of all democratic parties when assessing a country-specific situation, as governments naturally have an interest in a less critical assessment of the situation in their own country; calls on the Commission to provide all the national parliaments with the draft country chapters at the same time as they are provided to the governments of the Member States concerned.

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

15.3.2022

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

23

7

0

Members present for the final vote

Matteo Adinolfi, Gilles Boyer, Olivier Chastel, Caterina Chinnici, Lefteris Christoforou, Corina Crețu, Ryszard Czarnecki, José Manuel Fernandes, Luke Ming Flanagan, Daniel Freund, Isabel García Muñoz, Monika Hohlmeier, Jean-François Jalkh, Pierre Karleskind, Mislav Kolakušić, Joachim Kuhs, Ryszard Antoni Legutko, Claudiu Manda, Alin Mituța, Younous Omarjee, Markus Pieper, Michèle Rivasi, Sándor Rónai, Petri Sarvamaa, Simone Schmiedtbauer, Angelika Winzig, Lara Wolters, Tomáš Zdechovský

Substitutes present for the final vote

Mikuláš Peksa, Elżbieta Rafalska

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

23

+

PPE

Lefteris Christoforou, José Manuel Fernandes, Monika Hohlmeier, Markus Pieper, Petri Sarvamaa, Simone Schmiedtbauer, Angelika Winzig, Tomáš Zdechovský

Renew

Gilles Boyer, Olivier Chastel, Pierre Karleskind, Alin Mituța

S&D

Caterina Chinnici, Corina Crețu, Isabel García Muñoz, Claudiu Manda, Sándor Rónai, Lara Wolters

The Left

Luke Ming Flanagan, Younous Omarjee

Verts/ALE

Daniel Freund, Mikuláš Peksa, Michèle Rivasi

 

7

ECR

Ryszard Czarnecki, Ryszard Antoni Legutko, Elżbieta Rafalska

ID

Matteo Adinolfi, Jean-François Jalkh, Joachim Kuhs

NI

Mislav Kolakušić

 

 

Key to symbols:

+ : in favour

 : against

0 : abstention

 

 

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AFFAIRS (18.3.2022)

for the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs

on the Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law Report

(2021/2180(INI))

Rapporteur for opinion (*): Franco Roberti

(*) Associated committee – Rule 57 of the Rules of Procedure

 

 

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Legal Affairs calls on the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

1. Recalls that the Union is founded on the fundamental values enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU); underlines that those values are independent and construed in the light of one another and shall be monitored and safeguarded by all EU institutions and Member States; recalls, furthermore, that the Union itself and trust in the institutions of both the EU and the Member States is based on the rule of law, as enshrined in EU primary law and further defined in the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), and that the rule of law is akin to democracy and fundamental rights; considers it necessary to support the continuous strengthening of the rule of law in order to avoid any backsliding on the rule of law and its key components such as legality, legal certainty, effective judicial protection pursuant to Article 19(1) TEU, impartiality and independence of the judiciary, and the separation of powers; stresses that any backsliding on the rule of law in any Member State automatically undermines EU values in the Union as a whole; agrees with the Commission that these values should never be taken for granted, even though the EU is recognised as having very high standards in this regard; underlines the importance of the credible global example provided by the EU in upholding the rule of law internally and in supporting democracy worldwide;

2. Recalls, furthermore, that respect for the rule of law entails compliance with EU primary and secondary law and with the core principle of the primacy of EU law; emphasises that in order to uphold the rule of law, strong and permanent interaction is needed between the Member States and the EU’s institutions and policies; calls on the Commission to closely monitor national rulings challenging the primacy of EU law and to promote an ongoing dialogue between national courts and the CJEU as regards the interpretation and application of EU law and the primacy of EU law;

3. Notes that crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic have shown that some extraordinary measures taken at times of urgency, sometimes under an exceptional law, can have disproportionate democratic deficits entailing restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms as well as resulting in an impaired functioning of public institutions and of checks and balances; notes that those deficits may lead to corruption and lack proper scrutiny; stresses, therefore, the need for clear, proportionate and legally sound arrangements that are limited in time and ensure respect for the rule of law, including at times of crisis and in emergency circumstances; welcomes the ongoing efforts made by the Member States to establish such arrangements and protect the rights of EU citizens; underlines that it is crucial to guarantee the rule of law, access to justice, effective judicial protection and functioning of the institutions in exceptional circumstances and highlights the importance of assessing such measures and guaranteeing that all of the relevant institutions scrutinise their legality both during and after the decision-making process;

4. Notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has also shown that high levels of digitalisation have increased the resilience and efficiency of justice systems, for instance in accelerating judicial procedures and expediting decision-making by public administrations; agrees with the Commission that digitalisation should be fostered to a greater degree and investment in human and financial resources prioritised in some Member States in order to increase the efficiency of their justice systems and to facilitate access to legal aid and information; notes that such efforts should not hamper citizens’ procedural rights, including the right of defence or the principle of equality of arms; welcomes the fact that digitalising public administration and the judiciary is a priority in many Member States’ recovery and resilience plans; insists on the importance of upholding the rule of law by, for instance, establishing complaint and redress mechanisms within the digital single market and providing adequate training and staff for judicial institutions in order to efficiently address new challenges in this context; calls for decision-making in the judicial system that is supported by algorithm-based tools to only be performed by judges acting within their discretion and on a case‑by-case basis; calls on the Commission, therefore, to thoroughly assess the use of artificial intelligence and related technologies in judicial decisions; stresses, furthermore, that no artificial intelligence system used by the judiciary should be allowed to harm the physical integrity of human beings, nor to confer rights or impose legal obligations on individuals;

5. Welcomes the Commission’s second Rule of Law Report and the fact that it contains separate national chapters attempting to lay down a common methodology; considers that the non-discriminatory periodic review of the state of the rule of law is of great significance and is an essential monitoring tool that is also necessary for preventing and identifying possible risks of backsliding on the rule of law; considers it vital to strengthen the European rule of law toolbox; welcomes the importance that the report rightly attaches to justice systems; stresses that effectiveness, independence, impartiality and efficiency are characteristics of justice systems which are equally essential for upholding the rule of law and which constitute the basis for mutual trust within the EU’s area of freedom, security and justice; notes the need for lawyers, judges and prosecutors to be able to exercise their functions with full autonomy, impartiality and independence, without interference from any other institution or body, in accordance with the principle of the separation of powers; argues that this is an indispensable condition for ensuring equality and the protection of citizens’ rights under the law, as well as public trust in the institutions of the EU and the Member States;

6. Recalls that an efficient and fair justice system that ensures access to justice for all requires an appropriate budget and financing, sufficient legal aid for citizens, and stronger measures aimed at limiting the duration and costs of proceedings; welcomes the fact that reforms aimed at strengthening existing councils of the judiciary, which play a very important role in safeguarding judicial independence, have been undertaken or completed in some Member States; urges the Member States that are lagging behind in that regard to strive towards such reforms; underlines the necessity to evaluate reforms that are in the process of being adopted in different Member States and calls for the composition and functioning of judicial councils to be adapted to the standards established by the Commission and the Council of Europe, as endorsed by the CJEU;

7. Welcomes the fact that lawyers are now part of the questionnaire for the EU Justice Scoreboard; stresses the need to put appropriate safeguards in place against unlawful interference with lawyers’ professional activities and to ensure strong lawyers’ bars or associations, as they are essential for independent justice systems; stresses the fundamental role of the legal professions in ensuring the protection of fundamental rights and strengthening the rule of law; reiterates, in that regard, the need for lawyers and the judiciary to be highly qualified and regularly trained in the rule of law, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and EU law and its application in order to foster a common rule of law culture, including in civil and administrative proceedings; calls on the Commission to extend the scope of its next report to include this area;

8. Is deeply preoccupied by the fact that judicial independence continues to be an issue of serious concern in some Member States; condemns the continued political attacks on independence of the judiciary, the primacy of EU law and the implementation of the CJEU’s rulings in Hungary and Poland; notes with deep regret that these attacks have been worsening since the publication of the report and often target judges and prosecutors who have contested the backsliding on judicial independence; stresses the intimidating and chilling effects for judges and prosecutors of such attacks, which constitute undue influence by the executive and legislative branches over the functioning of justice systems; stresses that there has been increased public awareness and scrutiny of the respect for rule of law in recent years, including during the COVID‑19 pandemic, as evidenced by the EU Justice Scoreboard; notes that according to the 2021 scoreboard, the same Member States continue to cluster around the higher and lower ends of perceived judicial independence, just as in 2020;

9. Defends the position that the principle of the separation of powers is essential to the effective, independent, impartial and efficient functioning of justice systems across the EU and requires institutions to refrain from exercising any pressure on judges and prosecutors, especially from political and economic circles; notes, for instance, that the fact that Poland’s Minister of Justice is also the country’s Prosecutor General is an example of the violation of the principle of the separation of powers in a broader context of other breaches of checks and balances; points to the importance of the rules governing the appointment of judges and their neutrality towards the executive and legislative powers; believes that it is important to ensure accountability in the judiciary, especially where independence is questioned, and commends the examples of some Member States with regard to integrity frameworks strengthened by deontological principles applied to all members of the judiciary; encourages all magistrates to be given regular training on a professional code of deontology and for the adoption of new codes of ethics; underlines that prosecutors are key actors to enable the judiciary to fight crime and corruption; stresses that safeguards should be put in place in order to preserve the autonomy and independence of prosecutors from political pressure, especially from the government;

10. Welcomes the judgments of the CJEU of 16 February 2022 in cases C-156/21 and C‑157/21 dismissing the action for annulment lodged by Hungary and Poland in March 2021 against Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2020/2092 on a general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget[36]; recalls that for the purposes of that regulation, the rule of law includes the principles of legality, legal certainty, the prohibition of using executive power arbitrarily, effective judicial protection, including access to justice by independent and impartial courts, the separation of powers, non-discrimination and equality before the law; invites the Commission to dedicate a separate section of the report to breaches of the rule of law that have a direct impact on the financial interests of the EU; applauds the CJEU’s continued, thorough and consistent defence of the rule of law;

11. Considers that the language of the horizontal part of the report is inadequate as regards the systematic character of the attacks on the independence of justice systems in Hungary and Poland; reiterates its call on the Commission to provide a meaningful and easily readable comparison between the different national justice systems as regards the situation of the rule of law and to highlight where best practices for comparable systems might be applied and how similar deficiencies could be addressed; considers, moreover, that the report should go beyond annual snapshots and provide an evolutionary and dynamic view of the respect for or backsliding on the rule of law in the justice systems of all Member States; calls on the Commission to extend the scope of the report to all the interdependent values enshrined in Article 2 TEU; urges that the report review all the pillars of the rule of law, including equality before the law, by monitoring the protection of fundamental rights of natural and legal persons and the protection of the rights of minorities in particular, as well as examining the instruments used in the fight against discrimination, hate crime and hate speech and providing a thorough overview on access to justice and legal aid;

12. Urges the Commission to provide clear recommendations in the country-specific chapters for each and every Member State on the identified challenges and risks of backsliding on the rule of law, and to propose the necessary follow-up action; urges the Commission, furthermore, to make immediate and robust use of its toolkit, including infringement procedures under Article 260(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Article 7 TEU procedures and the conditionality mechanism, where appropriate, in order to swiftly and efficiently address any backsliding on the rule of law in national justice systems, such as refusals to implement and respect CJEU judgements, and to protect the EU’s financial interests;

13. Urges the Council to resume and conclude all pending procedures under Article 7(1) TEU, ensuring that hearings address new developments, and to inform Parliament thereof; underlines that any further delays to such action would amount to a breach of the rule of law principle by the Council itself;

14. Recalls the important role of journalists and civil society in raising the alarm about and drawing attention to breaches of the rule of law, including with regard to the proper functioning of justice systems, and calls for them to be given enhanced protection against intimidation or violence; underlines the importance of strengthening the transparency of public administrations and governments; points to the necessity to ensure access to trustworthy and reliable information sources in order to guarantee quality journalism and help to effectively tackle the spread of disinformation and misinformation; is concerned that an increasing number of Member States are adopting measures that severely constrain freedom of association and expression for civil society organisations, thereby contributing to the shrinking space for civil society; welcomes the measures taken by certain Member States to support media and journalists; condemns the instrumental use of justice to undermine freedom of information and pluralism, notably through the use of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) in the EU – a particular form of harassment against journalists (among other targets) that often leads to self-censorship; welcomes the Commission’s announcement of the proposal for binding EU legislation on common and effective safeguards for victims of SLAPPs across the Union and urgently calls for its adoption; calls on the Commission to meet with civil society and national authorities during its country visits online and in person;

15. Similarly recalls the role of whistleblowers in denouncing breaches of the rule of law and the need to protect whistleblowers in accordance with the minimum standards for protection enshrined in Directive (EU) 2019/1937 on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law[37]; believes that the revision of national legislation or the introduction of new rules and national bodies or offices, as recently witnessed in some Member States, are very positive developments that should serve as a benchmark for other Member States which do not yet have such protections or institutional settings in place;

16. Believes, moreover, that the rule of law relies on a system of institutional checks and balances based on high-quality public administration, the proper application of the law and the implementation of court decisions by public authorities; notes that legal certainty is essential for fighting corruption effectively; recalls the need, to this end, to establish a regulatory framework for a uniform EU definition of the crime of corruption, the absence of which is greatly undermining investigative and data collection work; believes that it is equally indispensable to ensure an efficient and transparent public administration supported by regulations and procedures to prevent illegal behaviour.

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

15.3.2022

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

19

4

0

Members present for the final vote

Pascal Arimont, Manon Aubry, Gunnar Beck, Ilana Cicurel, Geoffroy Didier, Pascal Durand, Jean-Paul Garraud, Sergey Lagodinsky, Gilles Lebreton, Sabrina Pignedoli, Jiří Pospíšil, Franco Roberti, Raffaele Stancanelli, Marie Toussaint, Adrián Vázquez Lázara, Axel Voss, Marion Walsmann, Tiemo Wölken, Lara Wolters, Javier Zarzalejos

Substitutes present for the final vote

Daniel Buda, Caterina Chinnici, Heidi Hautala, Sabrina Pignedoli, René Repasi, Nacho Sánchez Amor, Stéphane Séjourné

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

19

+

PPE

Pascal Arimont, Daniel Buda, Geoffroy Didier, Jiří Pospíšil, Axel Voss, Marion Walsmann, Javier Zarzalejos

S&D

René Repasi, Franco Roberti, Nacho Sánchez Amor, Tiemo Wölken, Lara Wolters

Renew

Ilana Cicurel, Pascal Durand, Stéphane Séjourné, Adrián Vázquez Lázara

Verts/ALE

Patrick Breyer, Marie Toussaint

The Left

Manon Aubry

 

4

ID

Gunnar Beck, Jean-Paul Garraud, Gilles Lebreton

ECR

Raffaele Stancanelli

 

 

Key to symbols:

+ : in favour

 : against

0 : abstention

 

 

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Budgets calls on the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

A. whereas Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2020/2092 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2020 on a general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget[38] (Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation) entered into force on 1 January 2021 and has been binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States since that date;

1. Reiterates that the identification of breaches of the principles of the rule of law requires an objective, impartial, fair and thorough qualitative assessment by the Commission, which should take into account relevant information from available sources and recognised institutions; insists that the annual Rule of Law Report be used systematically for that assessment, taking into account the above-mentioned criteria;

2. Reiterates its call on the Commission to take immediate action under the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation by making full use of its existing investigative tools without further delay in order to address rule of law deficiencies in Member States that could affect or seriously risk affecting the sound financial management of the EU budget in a sufficiently direct way; calls on the Commission to apply the Common Provisions Regulation and Financial Regulation more stringently in order to tackle the discriminatory use of EU funds, in particular any use of a politically motivated nature;

3. Recalls that the competences of Parliament’s committees should be allocated on the basis of Annex VI to its Rules of Procedure when infringements under the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation procedure are dealt with within Parliament for the purposes of measures targeting the budget in the event of violations of the rule of law in a Member State;

4. Invites the Commission to set out recommendations to help the Member States mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic on the activities of the national courts and ensure compliance with one of the fundamental elements of the rule of law – an effective justice system;

5. Welcomes the fact that the report assesses the state of the rule of law in every Member State; notes, however, that it fails to make a clear distinction between Member States with isolated shortcomings and those with systemic rule of law deficiencies; calls on the Commission to make this distinction clearer in future reports;

6. Recalling its resolution of 8 July 2021 on the creation of guidelines for the application of the general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget[39], insists that the Commission include in its annual Rule of Law Report a section dedicated to cases where breaches of the rule of law in a Member State could affect or seriously risk affecting the sound financial management of the EU budget or the protection of the financial interests of the Union in a sufficiently direct way; insists, furthermore, that the findings of the annual Rule of Law Report should not be subject to further informal exchanges with the Member State concerned in the context of the notification procedure under Article 6(1) of the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation;

7. Recalls that the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation applies both to individual breaches of the principles of the rule of law and to ‘systemic’ breaches that are widespread or are a result of recurrent practices or omissions by public authorities, or general measures adopted by such authorities; regrets that the structure of the 2021 Rule of Law Report does not always lend itself to the effective identification of such systemic breaches and calls on the Commission to ensure that the scrutiny of such systemic breaches is fully reflected in the 2022 Rule of Law Report; calls on the Commission to take action in response to the breaches it has identified in its previous annual Rule of Law Reports;

8. Recalls that in accordance with the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation, the rule of law must be understood in the light of the values and principles enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, including fundamental rights and non-discrimination; is of the opinion that persistent violations of democracy and fundamental rights, including attacks on freedom of the media and journalists, migrants, women’s rights, LGBTQIA+ rights and freedom of association and assembly, affect the projects that Member States decide to finance with EU funds and may have a sufficiently direct impact on the protection of the Union’s financial interests; calls on the Commission to act and to take this into account in the application of the regulation;

9. Recalls that legal certainty and adherence to rule of law standards are key prerequisites for economic activity; points out that in view of an increasing tendency towards protectionism, the use of discriminatory measures against foreign investors, and the increasingly arbitrary nature of decisions taken by public authorities in some Member States, the economic dimension of the rule of law should be given greater consideration as an integral part of the rule of law mechanism; regrets the fact that the structure of the 2021 Rule of Law Report does not serve the effective identification of such breaches in the economic sector and calls on the Commission to improve the annual report in this respect;

10. Believes that the principle of the rule of law and the risks for the EU budget in the event of a breach require a holistic approach for the protection of EU public funding; considers that the bodies tasked with ensuring the proper management of EU funds need to cooperate as effectively as possible; calls on all Member States that have not yet done so to participate in the European Public Prosecutor’s Office;

11. Welcomes the reflection on the resilience of justice systems and stresses that effective justice systems are essential for upholding the rule of law; recalls that the pandemic had a negative impact on both access to justice and the efficiency of national courts, including the partial closure of national courts and the use of digitalisation for some legal proceedings;

12. Calls on the Commission to ensure that its annual Rule of Law Reports also focus on any relevant country-specific recommendations for the European Semester, notably those linked to the independence of the judiciary and the public prosecutor and to fighting corruption and ensuring transparency and integrity;

13. Underlines the essential role played by civil society actors in swiftly identifying issues pertinent to the drafting of the annual Rule of Law Report and strongly insists that the Commission allows for proper consultation with reasonable timelines, notably excluding the winter holidays from the usual two-month period; calls on the Commission, furthermore, to reconsider the one-size-fits-all format of the questionnaire for providing input and to ensure that consultations are backed up by proper dialogue with the participating civil society organisations, whose input should be fully reflected in the report; encourages the Commission to seek further input from civil society on how to optimise the consultation process for future reports;

14. Is concerned by the spill-over effects of the erosion of media freedom with particular regard to the protection of the EU’s financial interests; urges the Commission to provide an assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of the national frameworks for the protection of media freedom and media pluralism with a particular focus on the role the media plays in fighting corruption; stresses the importance of assessing and monitoring the media situation in the Member States, in particular by examining any government measures designed to silence critical media and/or undermine freedom and pluralism, in order to prevent information from being concentrated further in the hands of a few, which could hamper the dissemination of free and independent information; considers that the Commission should focus such efforts on both public service media and the private sector in the Member States and the extent to which they are independent – both de jure and de facto – from national authorities, political parties or any other form of interference, and should identify situations where no assessment of potential conflicts of interest and of media concentration and transparency of media ownership was conducted; highlights the need to ensure that private media operators are financially independent and have the right conditions in which to operate sustainably in order to prevent the political capture of the media.

 

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

28.2.2022

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

30

5

1

Members present for the final vote

Rasmus Andresen, Anna Bonfrisco, Olivier Chastel, Lefteris Christoforou, David Cormand, Paolo De Castro, Andor Deli, José Manuel Fernandes, Eider Gardiazabal Rubial, Alexandra Geese, Vlad Gheorghe, Valentino Grant, Francisco Guerreiro, Valérie Hayer, Eero Heinäluoma, Niclas Herbst, Monika Hohlmeier, Moritz Körner, Joachim Kuhs, Hélène Laporte, Pierre Larrouturou, Camilla Laureti, Janusz Lewandowski, Margarida Marques, Silvia Modig, Siegfried Mureşan, Victor Negrescu, Lefteris Nikolaou-Alavanos, Andrey Novakov, Jan Olbrycht, Dimitrios Papadimoulis, Karlo Ressler, Bogdan Rzońca, Nicolae Ştefănuță, Nils Torvalds, Johan Van Overtveldt, Rainer Wieland, Angelika Winzig

Substitutes present for the final vote

Elisabetta Gualmini

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

30

+

PPE

Lefteris Christoforou, José Manuel Fernandes, Niclas Herbst, Monika Hohlmeier, Janusz Lewandowski, Siegfried Mureşan, Andrey Novakov, Jan Olbrycht, Karlo Ressler, Rainer Wieland, Angelika Winzig

Renew

Olivier Chastel, Vlad Gheorghe, Valérie Hayer, Moritz Körner, Nicolae Ştefănuță, Nils Torvalds

S&D

Paolo De Castro, Eider Gardiazabal Rubial, Elisabetta Gualmini, Eero Heinäluoma, Pierre Larrouturou, Margarida Marques, Victor Negrescu

The Left

Silvia Modig, Dimitrios Papadimoulis

Verts/ALE

Rasmus Andresen, David Cormand, Alexandra Geese, Francisco Guerreiro

 

5

ECR

Bogdan Rzońca

ID

Valentino Grant, Hélène Laporte

NI

Andor Deli, Lefteris Nikolaou-Alavanos

 

1

0

ID

Joachim Kuhs

 

Key to symbols:

+ : in favour

 : against

0 : abstention

 

 

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Constitutional Affairs calls on the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

1. Welcomes the annual Rule of Law Report as a key element and positive addition to the EU’s rule of law toolbox for promoting improvements and preventing and addressing rule of law issues in the Member States;

2. Firmly condemns all attacks on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights; underlines the fact that the 2020 Rule of Law Report encouraged positive reforms related to the rule of law in a number of Member States; highlights, however, that serious concerns remain over a number of Member States with regard to the independence and efficient functioning of the judiciary, freedom and pluralism of the media, and the fight against corruption, which have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic;

3. Stresses the importance of undertaking assessments and recommendations on prison conditions and access to justice, including the right to a fair trial, the right of defence, the principle of the presumption of innocence, the protection of victims, and the length of court proceedings;

4. Regrets the fact that several Member States have fallen in international press freedom rankings; highlights the irreplaceable role of public service media and stresses that it is essential to ensure and maintain their independence from political interference; strongly condemns threats to media freedom, including harassment and attacks against journalists and whistleblowers, the disregard for their legal protection, as well as media capture and politically motivated actions in the media sector;

5. Highlights the need for a more in-depth analysis and recommendations in the report concerning the principle of non-discrimination; calls, in this regard, for the non-discrimination clause in the Charter of Fundamental Rights to be applied more broadly to make the enforcement of the rule of law in the Member States and the EU as a whole consistent with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights; calls on all EU institutions, meanwhile, to give the non-discrimination clause the broadest possible legal interpretation;

6. Stresses that while efforts to clamp down on corruption have significantly increased in several Member States, others are cause for concern as regards the effectiveness of investigations and prosecutions; notes that since the publication of the 2014 anti-corruption report, the topic never again received such attention; calls on the Commission to publish a dedicated anti-corruption report on a biannual basis, which should be integrated within the rule of law report and follow the example of 2014, including an analysis of the EU institutions themselves;

7. Stresses that public debate about the report is central to the annual rule of law cycle and that the time of its publication is therefore of key relevance; regrets, therefore, the publication of the 2021 Rule of Law Report just before the parliamentary recess in mid-July; calls on the Commission to instate an annual EU Values Week each September, in which the report is presented to the European Parliament and national parliaments at the same time and better integrated within the EU Justice Scoreboard, the fundamental rights report of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, and the Media Pluralism Monitor; calls for this EU Values Week to be held in conjunction with an annual European conference on the rule of law, which should involve socially diverse national delegations including both citizens and civil servants from across the Member States, as recommended by EU Citizens Panel 2 (Democracy and Values) of the Conference on the Future of Europe; notes that this fits with Parliament’s previous calls for an annual democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights cycle, with the EU Values Week placed at the visible centre;

8. Recalls that important elements of Parliament’s resolutions of 25 October 2016 and 7 October 2020 on the establishment of an EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights are still missing, in particular the panel of independent experts and widening the scope of the monitoring to include all values set out under Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU); calls on the Commission to address these shortcomings; regrets the fact that the report does not make a clear distinction in its conclusions between Member States with isolated shortcomings and those with systemic deficiencies in the rule of law; calls on the Commission, therefore, to draw clear conclusions on the severity of the situation in Member States in future reports in order to prevent the report from being misused as a tool to relativise processes of autocratisation in some Member States; recalls the importance of the negotiation of an interinstitutional agreement for the establishment of an annual monitoring cycle; calls on the Council and Commission to engage in discussions on such an interinstitutional agreement in order to establish a single and coherent monitoring system for democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in the EU;

9. Welcomes the fact that the Commission consulted civil society actors for the report; stresses that civil society actors can provide a more critical view than the governments concerned; believes, however, that the Commission needs to show more transparency on the methodology and selection of stakeholders and that the consultation of civil society must be given meaningful follow-up; calls on the Commission to provide for sufficiently long timeframes for submitting input and to reconsider the format of the one‑size-fits-all questionnaire; encourages the Commission to seek further input from civil society on how to optimise the consultation process for future reports; stresses the need for a functioning civil society throughout the EU through the Citizenship, Equality, Rights and Values Programme and calls for the establishment of the European statute for associations and non-profit organisations;

10. Believes that the report should go beyond monitoring and include country-specific recommendations for preventive and corrective actions to be adopted by the Member States concerned, with a clear outline of enforcement measures and concrete proposals to tackle violations in cases of non-compliance; welcomes, to this end, the Commission’s commitment to include country-specific recommendations as of 2022, in accordance with Parliament’s resolution of 25 October 2016, which should be framed in the context of Member States’ obligations under EU law and international human rights law and standards; calls on the Commission to monitor and include an assessment of the Member States’ implementation of human rights law and standards in the upcoming Rule of Law Report, which would enable progress and regression to be tracked and evaluated;

11. Calls on the Commission to link the Rule of Law Report and their recommendations to the instruments ensuring the application of EU law, such as infringement proceedings, Article 7 TEU procedures, and the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation; calls on the Commission to strengthen, streamline and use all existing mechanisms to ensure that the principles and values enshrined in the Treaties are upheld throughout the EU; calls on the Commission to develop proposals to further strengthen the rule of law toolbox;

12. Calls for the report to include an overview of all enforcement actions taken by the Commission for each Member State, including pending infringement proceedings, as well as the state of compliance with the provisional measures and rulings of the Court of Justice of the EU and the European Court of Human Rights, feeding into a comprehensive application of the EU Justice Scoreboard;

13. Calls on the Commission to conclude each country chapter with an assessment of the Member States’ performance vis-à-vis the individual pillars of the report, indicating the extent to which the conditions of the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation have been fulfilled; regrets the fact that the Commission has not yet made full use of this tool and asks the Commission to fully and proactively enforce it with regard to all EU funds and programmes without delay; recalls the rulings of the Court of Justice of the EU in Cases C-156/21 and C-157/21, which affirmed that the conditionality mechanism was adopted with an appropriate legal basis, is compatible with Article 7 TEU and respects the principle of legal certainty;

14. Calls on the EU institutions to read the annual Rule of Law Report in the light of the fundamental rights report in view of the close connection between democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights;

15. Highlights that constitutional checks and balances at EU level should be assessed by independent experts in the report; commits, to that end, to requesting an opinion from the Venice Commission on the key principles of democracy in EU governance, in particular the separation of powers, accountability and checks and balances;

16. Underlines the importance of interinstitutional dialogue and cooperation on rule of law matters; calls on the Council to discuss the report with full transparency and to engage in dialogue with the European Parliament; calls on the European Council to also discuss the findings of the report, as Article 2 TEU values are a matter that should be addressed at the highest political level; strongly regrets the Council’s continued failure to make progress with the procedure under Article 7(1) TEU, as it undermines one of the most important instruments of the EU’s rule of law toolbox; underlines the fact that unanimity voting is not required for Council recommendations nor for determining whether there is a clear risk of a serious breach of Article 2 TEU values by a Member State; points out that the hearings organised by the Council are neither regular nor structured and calls on the Council to address concrete recommendations to the countries concerned, including deadlines; notes that the failure to make progress with the Article 7 TEU procedure enables continued divergence from the values enshrined in Article 2 TEU, undermining those values and mutual trust between Member States and the EU as a whole; takes note of the French Council presidency’s commitment to hold formal hearings in the first half of 2022 and urges the French presidency to take the appropriate steps to move forward with the Article 7(1) TEU procedure; reiterates its call for Parliament to be able to present its reasoned proposal to the Council, to attend hearings – especially when Parliament has initiated the procedure itself – and to be kept promptly and fully informed at every stage, including through its respective parliamentary committees involved in the procedure.

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

16.3.2022

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

22

6

0

Members present for the final vote

Gerolf Annemans, Gabriele Bischoff, Damian Boeselager, Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, Pascal Durand, Daniel Freund, Charles Goerens, Sandro Gozi, Brice Hortefeux, Laura Huhtasaari, Victor Negrescu, Giuliano Pisapia, Paulo Rangel, Antonio Maria Rinaldi, Domènec Ruiz Devesa, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Helmut Scholz, Pedro Silva Pereira, Sven Simon, Antonio Tajani, László Trócsányi, Loránt Vincze, Rainer Wieland

Substitutes present for the final vote

Jorge Buxadé Villalba, Nathalie Colin-Oesterlé, Sophia in ‘t Veld, Nikolaj Villumsen

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

22

+

PPE

Nathalie Colin-Oesterlé, Brice Hortefeux, Paulo Rangel, Sven Simon, Antonio Tajani, Loránt Vincze, Rainer Wieland

Renew

Pascal Durand, Charles Goerens, Sandro Gozi, Sophia in ‘t Veld

S&D

Gabriele Bischoff, Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Victor Negrescu, Giuliano Pisapia, Domènec Ruiz Devesa, Pedro Silva Pereira

The Left

Helmut Scholz, Nikolaj Villumsen

Verts/ALE

Damian Boeselager, Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, Daniel Freund

 

 

6

ECR

Jorge Buxadé Villalba, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski

ID

Gerolf Annemans, Laura Huhtasaari, Antonio Maria Rinaldi

NI

László Trócsányi

 

 

 

 

 

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON PETITIONS (15.3.2022)

for the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs

on the Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law report

(2021/2180(INI))

Rapporteur for opinion: Isabel Benjumea

 

 

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Petitions calls on the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

1. Emphasises the important role of the Committee on Petitions in identifying and flagging possible breaches of the rule of law, taking into account the numerous petitions received from citizens concerned about breaches of the rule of law; strongly believes that full protection of all EU citizens and their fundamental rights can only be ensured throughout the Union if the Member States fully comply with all principles of the rule of law and other values enshrined in Article 2 TEU, as deficiencies in one Member State have an impact on other Member States and the Union as a whole; stresses that the rule of law is among the common values of the Union and thus essential to achieve its objectives; points out that the promotion and upholding thereof is a shared responsibility between the EU and the Member States;

2. Highlights that the rule of law includes principles such as legality, legal certainty, the separation of powers, the prohibition of the arbitrary exercise of executive power, effective judicial protection by independent and impartial courts in full respect of fundamental rights and EU law, the fight against impunity, the timely enforcement of judgments including the permanent subjection of all public authorities to established laws and procedures, and equality before the law and the national authorities; underlines that such principles are common to all Member States regardless of their distinct legal systems;

3. Underlines the importance of Parliament’s recommendations enshrined in its resolution of 24 June 2021 on the Commission’s 2020 Rule of Law Report[40]; notes with regret that the Commission did not adequately address all these recommendations in its 2021 Rule of Law Report and did not sufficiently cover all rule of law issues;

4. Emphasises that judicial accountability, prosecutorial and judicial independence and the enforcement of judgments are crucial components of the rule of law; calls on the Commission to enforce these core EU values when they are infringed by Member States or when Member States fail to act on violations carried out by sub-state entities, in order to increase citizens’ trust in the judiciary; asks the Commission to use all means at its disposal in order to do so, especially the rule of law conditionality mechanism, where applicable; calls on Member States to protect judges and prosecutors from political attacks and pressures that attempt to undermine their work, so as to fully preserve their independence;

5. Points to the high amount of petitions[41] in relation to the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic; in this regard, recalls that the Venice Commission is currently monitoring the measures taken in the Member States as a result of the pandemic and its impact on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights; calls on the Commission to investigate and to continue assessing in its future reports whether COVID-19-related measures were limited in time and whether their necessity and proportionality was justified, and to fully report the outcomes of the assessments to the public; requests an assessment of the checks and balances during the pandemic; notes with concern that courts in several Member States have already ruled that certain measures were not consistent with the national constitutions; underlines the need to have a clear legal regime in place before a crisis; stresses that Member States should capitalise on the COVID-19 experience to make sure that future crises will be handled with the necessary accountability and transparency; commends the efforts made by the ombudspersons and human rights institutions to ensure the continuity of their work in spite of the great challenges they were facing;

6. Notes that emergency regimes and decree-laws were urgently instated by governments in several Member States because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that this has affected the functioning of the national justice systems and the activity of the courts; regrets the lack of participation and the non-involvement of some national parliaments in the decision-making and the closure of parliaments in numerous Member States during the pandemic, which has increased the power of governments and has led to a lack of accountability and transparency of the executive;

7. Calls on the EU institutions and the Member States to improve the effectiveness of the judicial system by developing and implementing structural reforms and a high level of digitalisation, which has proven effective in preventing backlogs, especially during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic; stresses that adequate financial and human resources are key to developing effective justice systems;

8. Is deeply concerned about the status of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, the close connection between prosecutors and the government (in particular the Public Prosecutor General/Minister of Justice) and the complete disregard for not only EU law requirements, but also European Convention on Human Rights and Polish Constitutional requirements[42]; is further concerned about the impartiality of the judiciary in Hungary[43] and the independence of the judiciary in Spain[44];

9. Stresses the indispensability of enforcing court sentences, both at national and EU level, and condemns the lack of compliance with judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and of national courts by the public authorities concerned; emphasises that sentences of the CJEU have to be implemented in a timely manner and as soon as possible in accordance with the Treaties[45],  in particular those court sentences that seek to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic characteristics, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation;

10. Regrets the attitudes of the Catalan government authorities, who boast publicly of their refusal to comply with the judgments ruled by the competent courts in the field of education, flagrantly breaching the right of children to study in the official language of their Member State; considers that these attitudes and actions, together with the harassment of the plaintiffs, jeopardise compliance with the rule of law and the separation of powers, thereby seriously harming the law and the rights of citizens;

11. Invites the Commission to take measures to strengthen corruption prevention[46] in order to create more transparency in public administration and improve access to information about lobbying and oversight of political party financing; stresses that anti-corruption measures are key to defending the Union’s economic interests and its sustainable growth; emphasises that such measures, especially in pandemic-related processes, are imperative to prevent violations and malpractice threatening Member States’ and the Union’s recovery from the crisis; warns Member States of the risks of jeopardising the fight against corruption, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the general acceleration of the decision-making process and the simplification of public administration procedures, such as public procurement resulting in non-competitive or direct awards;

12. Expresses its concern about the safety of whistleblowers who report acts of corruption[47] or other illegal activities[48] and thereupon experience violations of their fundamental rights;

13. Regrets the fact that media independence and the safety of journalists is not fully guaranteed; underlines the importance of media pluralism and the need to protect journalists against threats and attacks in order to prevent self-censorship, to assure freedom of expression and speech and the right to information and to safeguard the journalistic profession; emphasises the key role of investigative journalists in the fight against corruption, fraud and illegal activities that negatively impact the EU budget; reiterates in this regard the need to protect investigative journalism from strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), with a focus on how they affect smaller news outlets and freelancers; notes that personal harassment, intimidation and threats to life are particularly worrying and that online threats are on the rise across the EU; stresses the difficulties faced by journalists and media in providing citizens with fact-checked information about the COVID-19 pandemic; expresses its concern about journalists’ deteriorating economic and working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing crisis, underlining a substantial increase in the unemployment rates in the sector; calls on the Commission to improve the instruments for assessing measures taken by governments that may undermine freedom of information and pluralism;

14. Reiterates that media independence is often violated through government subsidies and, most regretfully, through the abuse of EU funds dedicated to the popularisation of EU policies and programmes;

15. Draws attention to the need for better regulation and more transparency regarding social media and networking platforms[49]; takes note of the insufficiency of the horizontal assessment of the media sector and the lack of representation of online media in the Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law report (COM(2021)0700);

16. Observes that fake news and the resulting misinformation aimed at EU citizens are a threat to democracy in the EU[50], especially during the COVID-19 pandemic; notes that disinformation must be verified and combated with guarantees,  without giving rise to any violation of the right to receive and impart information, without interference by public authorities, and therefore preventing any violation of Article 11(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU;

17. Is concerned about the increase in hate speech and hate crimes against women, Black people and people of colour, migrants and refugees, LGBTIQ people12 and minorities, in particular Roma, and those related to religious beliefs and political ideas; is deeply worried about the fact that international and national human rights bodies have underlined the growing rate of hate speech online, often perpetrated by political figures, and often targeting minorities, which undermines human dignity, freedom, equality and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities, and goes against the principles of pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men; calls on the Commission to continue its work to establish effective criteria to combat this problem, and to do so without affecting the pluralism of the system;

18. Regrets that some Member States have not fully and correctly incorporated into national law the Council Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia[51]; deplores the fact that the provisions of the Racial Equality Directive[52] are still not being correctly implemented in all Member States;

19. Stresses that the findings of the Commission’s annual Rule of Law report should be operationalised in concrete policy actions in order to make full and effective use of all tools available at Union level to address breaches of the rule of law, such as infringement procedures, including expedited procedures, applications for interim measures before the CJEU and actions regarding the non-implementation of CJEU judgments, as well as instruments available under EU financial legislation and the applicable sector-specific and financial rules to effectively protect the EU budget, including interruption of payment deadlines, suspension of payments, financial corrections or exclusion of expenditure from EU financing, and the procedures enshrined in the Conditionality Regulation, the rule of law framework and Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union addressing risks to the foundational values of the EU in the Member States; urges the Commission to use its tools, including the report on corruption in the context of the general rule of law mechanism, more effectively and in a more timely manner; asks the Commission to introduce in its upcoming Rule of Law reports country-specific recommendations accompanied by deadlines for implementation, targets and concrete policy actions to be taken; emphasises citizens’ high expectations highlighted in petitions asking for a swift and effective Union-level response to put an end to breaches of the rule of law;

20. Underlines that the role of civil society organisations is of particular importance and that they must be able to operate without unjustified interference by state authorities; calls on the Commission to foster open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society organisations, including organisations and associations of victims of terrorism, in order to take note of all their concerns and involve them more effectively in all phases of the review cycle; highlights the need to allow submissions in all the EU official languages and ensure thematically structured consultations to increase the efficiency of the process and the amount of valuable feedback, and the need for longer consultation periods to guarantee proper participation of all civil society organisations and NGOs, including smaller ones; calls on the Member States to apply the principles of transparency and disclosure with regard to the selection of the civil society organisations and NGOs involved;

21. Proposes the creation of a Citizens’ Platform on the Rule of Law, a digital platform hosted by Parliament, which would enable citizens to report and share their experience of rule of law deficiencies, vulnerabilities and breaches; believes that this platform would be in line with the objectives set out in Article 11(1) TEU and with Parliament’s vocation to act as a bridge between citizens and the EU, as it would give them the opportunity to exchange experiences and views with each other, as well as create an accessible public forum whereby individual and collective testimonies can be directly shared and made visible to those monitoring the rule of law and the other values enshrined in Article 2 TEU, such as the EU institutions, lawyers, civil society organisations, watchdogs, journalists and researchers; highlights that there would be no obligation for Parliament to act on these testimonies, but the platform would provide deeper understanding of individual citizens’ concerns, enable greater visibility of the threats to and the deficiencies and breaches of the values enshrined in Article 2 TEU across the Union, and ultimately strengthen the rule of law culture and the engagement of the EU institutions with citizens; suggests that the platform could also provide information on drawing up petitions for those reporting on rule of law issues;

22. Stresses the importance of credibility for the European Union in the context of accession, as focusing on judicial independence for candidate and potential candidate countries while at the same time having controversies and unresolved problems on the same matters within the Union has a negative impact on the whole process; stresses that the Commission should take into account the Special Report of the European Court of Auditors on EU support for the rule of law in the Western Balkans of January 2022, as it supports this point; calls on the Commission to avoid negative repercussions in the accession process due to weak credibility on rule of law issues and points out that the Commission should proactively solve internal issues while simultaneously working on the rule of law with candidate countries;

23. Is concerned about the forest of Białowieża, where EU environmental law on forest management is not being complied with, as specified in petition 0805/2017 submitted by Polish citizens; calls on the Commission to take the petition into account and to investigate further the effects of the wall on both flora and fauna, and reiterates that the Commission should consider this issue in the country-specific recommendations for Poland;

24. Shows its total solidarity and full support for all victims of terrorism; condemns the fact that current governments negotiate with the leaders of armed groups; regrets that there are still unsolved terrorist attacks, especially the 379 unsolved murders committed by the terrorist group ETA[53].

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

15.3.2022

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

20

9

5

Members present for the final vote

Alviina Alametsä, Andris Ameriks, Marc Angel, Margrete Auken, Jordan Bardella, Alexander Bernhuber, Markus Buchheit, Ryszard Czarnecki, Tamás Deutsch, Francesca Donato, Eleonora Evi, Agnès Evren, Gheorghe Falcă, Emmanouil Fragkos, Gianna Gancia, Alexis Georgoulis, Peter Jahr, Stelios Kympouropoulos, Cristina Maestre Martín De Almagro, Dolors Montserrat, Ulrike Müller, Emil Radev, Frédérique Ries, Alfred Sant, Massimiliano Smeriglio, Yana Toom, Loránt Vincze, Michal Wiezik, Tatjana Ždanoka, Kosma Złotowski

Substitutes present for the final vote

Isabel Benjumea Benjumea, Maite Pagazaurtundúa, Demetris Papadakis, Anne-Sophie Pelletier

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

20

+

PPE

Isabel Benjumea Benjumea, Alexander Bernhuber, Agnès Evren, Gheorghe Falcă, Peter Jahr, Stelios Kympouropoulos, Dolors Montserrat, Emil Radev, Loránt Vincze

Renew

Ulrike Müller, Maite Pagazaurtundúa, Frédérique Ries, Yana Toom, Michal Wiezik

S&D

Andris Ameriks, Marc Angel, Cristina Maestre Martín De Almagro, Demetris Papadakis, Alfred Sant, Massimiliano Smeriglio

 

9

ECR

Ryszard Czarnecki, Emmanouil Fragkos, Kosma Złotowski

ID

Jordan Bardella, Markus Buchheit, Gianna Gancia

NI

Tamás Deutsch

The Left

Alexis Georgoulis, Anne-Sophie Pelletier

 

5

0

NI

Francesca Donato

Verts/ALE

Alviina Alametsä, Margrete Auken, Eleonora Evi, Tatjana Ždanoka

 

Key to symbols:

+ : in favour

 : against

0 : abstention

 

 

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

Date adopted

20.4.2022

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

54

11

1

Members present for the final vote

Magdalena Adamowicz, Abir Al-Sahlani, Malik Azmani, Katarina Barley, Pietro Bartolo, Vladimír Bilčík, Vasile Blaga, Ioan-Rareş Bogdan, Karolin Braunsberger-Reinhold, Saskia Bricmont, Jorge Buxadé Villalba, Damien Carême, Caterina Chinnici, Clare Daly, Marcel de Graaff, Anna Júlia Donáth, Lena Düpont, Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová, Cornelia Ernst, Laura Ferrara, Nicolaus Fest, Jean-Paul Garraud, Maria Grapini, Sylvie Guillaume, Andrzej Halicki, Evin Incir, Sophia in ‘t Veld, Patryk Jaki, Marina Kaljurand, Fabienne Keller, Łukasz Kohut, Moritz Körner, Alice Kuhnke, Hélène Laporte, Jeroen Lenaers, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, Lukas Mandl, Nuno Melo, Nadine Morano, Javier Moreno Sánchez, Maite Pagazaurtundúa, Emil Radev, Paulo Rangel, Terry Reintke, Karlo Ressler, Diana Riba i Giner, Birgit Sippel, Sara Skyttedal, Vincenzo Sofo, Martin Sonneborn, Tineke Strik, Ramona Strugariu, Annalisa Tardino, Tomas Tobé, Yana Toom, Milan Uhrík, Tom Vandendriessche, Bettina Vollath, Elissavet Vozemberg-Vrionidi, Jadwiga Wiśniewska, Elena Yoncheva, Javier Zarzalejos

Substitutes present for the final vote

Malin Björk, Daniel Freund, Sira Rego, Thijs Reuten

 

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

54

+

PPE

Magdalena Adamowicz, Vladimír Bilčík, Vasile Blaga, Ioan‑Rareş Bogdan, Karolin Braunsberger‑Reinhold, Lena Düpont, Andrzej Halicki, Jeroen Lenaers, Lukas Mandl, Nuno Melo, Emil Radev, Paulo Rangel, Karlo Ressler, Sara Skyttedal, Tomas Tobé, Elissavet Vozemberg‑Vrionidi, Javier Zarzalejos

S&D

Katarina Barley, Pietro Bartolo, Caterina Chinnici, Maria Grapini, Sylvie Guillaume, Evin Incir, Marina Kaljurand, Łukasz Kohut, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, Javier Moreno Sánchez, Thijs Reuten, Birgit Sippel, Bettina Vollath, Elena Yoncheva

Renew

Abir Al‑Sahlani, Malik Azmani, Anna Júlia Donáth, Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová, Sophia in ‘t Veld, Fabienne Keller, Moritz Körner, Maite Pagazaurtundúa, Ramona Strugariu, Yana Toom

Verts/ALE

Saskia Bricmont, Damien Carême, Daniel Freund, Alice Kuhnke, Terry Reintke, Diana Riba i Giner, Tineke Strik

The Left

Malin Björk, Clare Daly, Cornelia Ernst, Sira Rego

NI

Laura Ferrara, Martin Sonneborn

 

11

ID

Nicolaus Fest, Jean‑Paul Garraud, Marcel de Graaff, Hélène Laporte, Annalisa Tardino, Tom Vandendriessche

ECR

Jorge Buxadé Villalba, Patryk Jaki, Vincenzo Sofo, Jadwiga Wiśniewska

NI

Milan Uhrík

 

1

0

PPE

Nadine Morano

 

Key to symbols:

+ : in favour

 : against

0 : abstention

 

 

[1] Judgment of 16 February 2022, Hungary v European Parliament and Council of the European Union, C-156/21, EU:C:2022:97.

[2] Judgment of 16 February 2022, Poland v European Parliament and Council of the European Union, C-157/21, EU:C:2022:98.

[3] OJ L 119, 4.5.2016, p. 1.

[4] OJ L 303, 28.11.2018, p. 69.

[5] OJ L 433 I, 22.12.2020, p. 1.

[6] OJ L 156, 5.5.2021, p. 1.

[7] OJ C 215, 19.6.2018, p. 162.

[8] OJ C 129, 5.4.2019, p. 13.

[9] OJ C 390, 18.11.2019, p. 117.

[10] OJ C 433, 23.12.2019, p. 66.

[11] OJ C 363, 28.10.2020, p. 45.

[12] OJ C 270, 7.7.2021, p. 91.

[13] OJ C 395, 29.9.2021, p. 63.

[14] OJ C 395, 29.9.2021, p. 2.

[15] OJ C 415, 13.10.2021, p. 36.

[16] OJ C 425, 20.10.2021, p. 107.

[17] OJ C 81, 18.2.2022, p. 27.

[18] OJ C 99, 1.3.2022, p. 146.

[19] OJ C 99, 1.3.2022, p. 218.

[20] OJ C 99, 1.3.2022, p. 218.

[21] OJ C 117, 11.3.2022, p. 151.

[30] Directive (EU) 2019/1937 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2019 on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law. OJ L 305, 26.11.2019, p. 17.

[31] Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA of 28 November 2008 on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law. OJ L 328, 6.12.2008, p. 55.

[32] Council Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin. OJ L 180, 19.7.2000, p. 22.

[33] European Parliament resolution of 19 June 2020 on the anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd. OJ C 362, 8.9.2021, p. 63.

[34] Interim report of 25 March 2021 on  the proposal for a Council regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 168/2007 establishing a European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (COM(2020)0225).

 

[35] Judgment of 5 June 2018, Relu Adrian Coman and Others v Inspectoratul General pentru Imigrări and Ministerul Afacerilor Interne, C-673/16, EU:C:2018:385.

[36] Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2020/2092 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2020 on a general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget, OJ L 433 I, 22.12.2020, p. 1.

[37] Directive (EU) 2019/1937 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2019 on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law, OJ L 305, 26.11.2019, p. 17.

[38] OJ L 433 I, 22.12.2020, p. 1.

[39] OJ C 99, 1.3.2022, p. 146.

[40] OJ C 81, 18.2.2022, p. 27.

[41] See petition Nos 1438/2020, 1469/2020, 1493/2020, 1501/2020, 0038/2021, 0046/2021, 0053/2021, 0106/2021, 0152/2021, 0186/2021 and 0533/2021.

[42] Petition Nos 0559/2020, 1154/2020, 1246/2020, 1360/2020 and 0869/2021.

[43] Petition No 1512/2020.

[44] Petition Nos 1180/2020, 1182/2020, 1326/2020, 1367/2020, 1561/2020 and 0353/2021.

[45] See petition No 0858/2017 on the impact of full immersion in Catalan at school for families moving to the region.

[46] See, for example, petition No 0822/2020 on alleged corruption in Bulgaria and petition No 0194/2020 on alleged corruption in Slovakia.

[47] See petition No 0242/2021.

[48] See petition No 1056/2021 on the protection of whistle-blowers and journalists who report on illegal logging.

[49] See petition Nos 1336/2020, 0036/2021, 0137/2021, 0691/2021 and 0719/2021.

[50] See petition Nos 1310/2019, 0268/2020, 0743/2020 and 1293/2020.

[51] Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA of 28 November 2008 on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.

[52] Council Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin.

[53] Fact-finding mission to Vitoria and Madrid, Spain, for the 379 unsolved cases of murders perpetrated by the terrorist group ETA.

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