Protecting the rule of law in EU Member States and Candidate Countries

Författare: Bieber Florian, Kmezić Marko

The respect for the rule of law is declining both in EU member states and in countries aspiring to membership. The EU therefore needs to step up its efforts and adopt a more inclusive, coherent, and transparent approach. This argument is developed by Marko Kmezić and Florian Bieber at the University of Graz. (2020:12epa)

The rule of law constitutes a condition for EU membership and defines the collective identity of the European Union. Nonetheless, both EU aspirants and several EU member states are currently confronted with grave threats to the functioning of the rule of law.

This development is analysed by Senior Researcher Marko Kmezić and Professor Florian Bieber, both at the University of Graz. In this analysis, they examine the EU’s policies and mechanisms aiming at the promotion and the enforcement of the rule of law, both in member states and vis-à-vis candidate countries. In view of the declining respect for the rule of law, the authors highlight the deficiencies of the Union’s current instruments and argue that additional EU efforts are required.

One key to solving the problems is aligning the internal and the external dimensions of EU rule of law promotion. The authors also stress the need to recognise that the problems are often the result of a deliberate policy of autocrats and not the accidental by-product of weak states.

Their policy recommendations include:

  • Improve civil society assistance – the EU’s efforts need to be less state-centred and more focused on an inclusive bottom-up approach.

  • Support specialised independent state agencies – the EU should pay more attention to the capacity to implement adopted legislation.

  • Closely monitor the state of democracy – the rule of law and democracy need to be considered as interlinked and mutually reinforcing concepts.

  • Make the rule of law benchmarks clearer – target governments should know what they are expected to do, and civil society should be able to hold their governments accountable with respect to these standards.

  • Amend the rule of law related decision-making procedures – in the event of Treaty change, it would be preferable to ensure that individual member states cannot block the Council’s decisions, both against a member state that breaches the rule of law and against a country that wishes to open or continue an accession process.

  • Introduce rule of law conditionality for member states – the possibility to reduce EU funding in an appropriate and proportionate way would show member states that EU funding is unable to achieve its core aims when the rule of law is systematically flawed.