Workshop 4: EU Rule of Law and Democracy

The 4th Jean Monnet NOVA-EU workshop on 24-25 June 2021 addresses EU Democracy and Rule of Law

In recent years, the EU has been confronted with constitutional crises in EU Member States, especially in Hungary and Poland. Theses crises pose systemic threats to democracy, the rule of law, and human rights as common values of the European integration process (Art.2 TEU) and endanger mutual trust among the Member States. Until now, and despite some positive recent developments, these threats have not been sufficiently addressed by current Treaty tools, including most importantly the Art.7 TEU mechanism and the infringement procedure. The EU is thus called to develop a more structured and consistent approach, also in order address the criticism that it is applying ‘double standards’: while for third countries, and in particular accession candidates, EU institutions have set up robust mechanisms for monitoring and enforcing democratic and rule of law obligations, both the standards applied and the level of scrutiny seem to be more lenient for Union members.

The latest discussions at the EU level have concentrated in particular on two possible reforms of the EU oversight instruments. First, institutions and policymakers have reflected on the introduction of monitoring and peer review mechanisms, which would include not only the current culprits, but all existing EU Member States and EU institutions themselves, and would serve to detect possible threats at an early stage. Second, the Commission proposed the creation of conditionality mechanisms, whereby EU funding would be made conditional on compliance with the EU’s founding values and in particular the rule of law. It is however becoming clear that there is no silver bullet, and that stronger enforcement may even backfire and contribute to further divisions in Europe between East and West, bolstering support for illiberal leaders at the national level. At the end of the day, what is needed is a strong democratic and rule of law culture that is strongly rooted in the ‘hearts and minds’ of office holders and citizens alike.