During recent years, the rule of law has been a prominent European issue; newly published Rule of Law Report (RLR-22) assists in informing political and economic elites in the states on vital legal elements in the European integration. Besides, the annual RLR represents a central instrument in the EU’s efforts towards practical promotion of the EU’s legal principles and safeguarding the rule of law.
The annual RLR is a kind of preventive mechanism, aimed at improving the rule of law situation in the EU-27, raising awareness of increasing challenges and facilitating early solutions to prevent further deterioration; besides, it complements other administrative and legal mechanisms and instruments at the EU level. The report is focused on four main pillars: national justice system, anti-corruption framework, media pluralism, and other institutional checks and balances. For each pillar, the methodology is developed by the relevant EU law provisions with the opinions and recommendations and useful guidance.
Law of European integration
Since the signing of the present EU basic law and the EU founding treaty (so-called Maastricht Treaty in1992) the legal aspects have become a vital issue in the European integration’s process. For example, the national sovereignty (political, economic, cultural, ideological, etc.) was already a highly controversial topic in those days, but it has recently become even more important.
Therefore, the European legal community is presently dealing with the sovereignty both at the national and the Union levels in order to explore the legal challenges arising from new concepts that have moved to the centre of public debate in recent years towards such issues as budgetary, digital and strategic sovereignty.
Against a backdrop of great geo-political and economic challenges for the Union, the European lawyers and judicial authorities will make all possible measures to inform EU-wide legal practitioners, lawmakers and policymakers on integrational perspectives.
Preparing the RLR-22
When preparing the recommendations for the present RLR, the Commission paid attention to the report’s consistency and synergies with other processes, such as the European Semester, the General Conditionality Regulation and the national Recovery and Resilience Plans.
The findings of the Rule of Law reports have brought a major contribution to informing the debates on the rule of law at both the EU and national levels.
Thus, the General Affairs Council meetings, for example, held constructive discussions and successfully exchanged best practices.
The European Parliament has also played an increasingly important role in debating the rule of law, a trend which has continued over the past years. In this regard, the European Parliament has provided the Commission with several recommendations on how to develop the reports further. The decision to include recommendations in the 2022 report also responds to a call from the European Parliament.
In the same vein, following the publication of the 2021 Rule of Law Report, the Commission visited most national Parliaments to present and discuss the methodology and the country-specific findings of the 2021 Rule of Law Report.
The work on the 2022 report started in November 2021: the member states were consulted on the questionnaire used to collect input for the report. During the whole 2022, the Commission received written input from the states and over 250 written contributions from stakeholders about specific national legal developments in states.
During spring 2022, over 500 country visits took place online across all EU-27 states; the Commission discussed rule of law developments with nearly 700 national authorities, including judicial sector, law enforcement, as well as journalists’ associations and civil society organisations.
Finally, the EU states were given the opportunity to provide factual updates on their country chapters ahead of the adoption of the third Rule of Law Report. It consists of a general report and 27 country chapters, and for the first time also includes concrete recommendations to the Member States. The Rule of Law Network, which was set up in 2020, continued providing a channel of communication between the Commission and the EU member states.
Several agencies were consulted to prepare the report: e.g. the Fundamental Rights Agency, the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ), the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI), the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), the Council of Europe, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as well as national and international civil society and journalists’ organisations.
The Commission has ensured that the Recovery and Resilience Facility was used to drive reforms necessary to address recommendations under the European Semester; hence, the member states’ recovery and resilience plans included important reform priorities, such as improving the business environment through effective public administration, legal and judicial systems.
Report’s legal background
The report has been based on the following main legal backgrounds:
= Legal provisions in the Treaties. Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which puts on the EU institutions “exceptional response instruments” to act where there is a clear risk of a serious breach, or the existence of a serious and persistent breach, of the values of Article 2 TEU, including the rule of law.
= Infringement procedures, which are having a specific “instrument” to ensure correct EU law application by the member states; e.g. the Commission may take legal action against a member state that fails to implement EU law by launching an infringement procedure and ultimately referring the matter to the Court of Justice.
= The rule of law’s conditionality mechanism: the general regime of conditionality is a budgetary instrument designed to remedy adverse effects of breaches of the principles of the rule of law on the financial interests of the Union. The Commission may take into account the Rule of Law Report, as well as other sources from other institutions (for instance, the European Anti-Fraud Office, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the European Court of Auditors), when identifying and assessing breaches of the principles of the rule of law that affect the financial interests of the EU.
= European Recovery and Resilience Facility was used to drive the EU states’ reforms of the judiciary, anti-corruption frameworks, public administration and digitalisation of their justice systems to strengthen their investment climates.