EU Socialists say rule of law report not enough, say clear direction, timelines are needed

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The Socialist group in the European Parliament has welcomed the latest annual assessment on the rule of law in the EU but expressed concerns that the report will fail to improve the situation in the Member States without clear and specific recommendation to EU governments.

Domènec Ruiz Devesa, S&D MEP who led the Parliament’s work on assessing the 2020 report, argued that “the annual report is a useful tool to monitor and assess the state of the rule of law in all Member States and on similar grounds. However, it clearly lacks the concrete follow-up with a timeline to remedy problems. Without specific recommendations to governments, the rule of law report will not live up to its full potential. The annual report is one of a number of tools the EU has to protect the rule of law, but efforts are impaired when there are no direct links made between the different instruments. For example, the report fails to link the misuse of EU funds to the new rule of law conditionality mechanism that we have been calling on the Commission to trigger for months.

The EC report on the rule of law noted that since last year the professional environment for journalists in Poland has deteriorated because of “intimidating judicial proceedings, growing failure to protect journalists and violent actions during protests, including from police forces”..

The S&D MEP added that “the attacks on media freedom and judicial independence once again headline the report, but not to the same extent in all member states. Unfortunately, there has been a constantly deteriorating situation in the usual suspects, Hungary and Poland. Yet the reality is even worse than the report suggests. In Hungary, there are allegations that Viktor Orbán’s government has been using the Pegasus software to spy on journalists. Meanwhile, the Polish government’s failure to implement European court rulings represents a systematic undermining of the EU’s legal order. In both cases, the EU must respond swiftly and severely to force regressive governments to comply with EU law. We urge the Slovenian presidency to draw on this report in the Council to move to the next stage of the Article 7 proceedings against Poland and Hungary and issue recommendations. However, with recent attacks on journalists and a failure to appoint European public prosecutors, the Slovenian government’s poor track record on the rule of law this year suggests that we shouldn’t hold our breath.”

The Commission said Poland and Hungary were undermining media pluralism and court independence. They are the only two countries in the 27-member bloc under formal EU investigation for undermining the rule of law. “The Commission may take into account the Rule of Law report … when identifying and assessing breaches of the principles of the rule of law that affect the financial interests of the Union,” the Commission said in a statement.

Further details on the Commission’s report are available through the link below.

Hungary reacts: this is intimidation

Justice Minister Judit Varga has slammed the European Commission’s latest rule of law report, calling it a tool used to blackmail the country over its child protection law. 

“We are not surprised: the latest report of the European Commission focuses on the Hungarian Law on Child Protection,” Minister Varga said in an English-language post on Facebook. “According to them, in Hungary right now, there is no rule of law precisely because we protect children’s and parents’ rights at the highest level.”

Mixed reviews on Malta

In its report on Malta, the European Commission noted that the reforms of 2020, in particular the reform of the system of judicial appointments and of judicial discipline, have contributed to strengthening the independence of the Maltese justice system. Steps have been taken to depoliticise the appointment of the Chief Justice, while certain aspects of this procedure require further attention. The transfer of prosecutions from the police to the Attorney General is progressing.

The Commission noted that whereas this transfer needs time, it is important that it also covers less serious offences. There are ongoing discussions to enhance the independence of specialised tribunals. Serious challenges remain as regards the efficiency of the justice system, in particular the length of court proceedings, the impact of the low number of judges and the digitalisation of justice.

Following the publication of the European Commission’s Rule of Law Report 2021, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that the Maltese government remains committed to contributing to the strengthening of rule of law within the EU and will continue engaging in ongoing cooperation to achieve this goal.

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