Towards an EU Mechanism on Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights?

On 16th February 2016 the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) met to discuss a proposal to create a new EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights (DRF) to better monitor and enforce the EU’s common values.

This proposal, which comes from the European Parliament (EP), relates to the EU’s commitment to effectively protect and promote fundamental rights. It is wide in scope and builds on past initiatives of the European Commission and the EP; for instance the Commission’s EU framework on the rule of law, presented in 2014. This framework, however, was seen as largely inadequate by MEPs because it would not hold governments to account if they breached fundamental rights. This is why the EP is considering establishing a binding mechanism that would make a regular assessment of Member States’ compliance with EU’s values, given that they are enshrined in its treaties. The EP proposal goes in the direction of AGE and other NGOs’ proposal for aninternal human rights strategy that would ensure the EU and its Member States consistently take into account fundamental rights.

Treaty change could be required if this proposal were realised, so to ensure diverse viewpoints were taken into account, the EP’s Rapporteur, Sophie Sophie In ‘t Veld (the Netherlands, ALDE Party), requested input from seven other MEPs, each of whom focused on a specific area:

Monika Flašíková-Beňová (Slovakia, S&D Group) considered the establishment of a ‘Democracy Scoreboard’, which would include indicators to evaluate the state of democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights across the EU. Frank Engel(Luxembourg, EPP) reported on existing EU patterns of governance.Timothy Kirkhope (United Kingdom, ECR Group) suggested the improvement of impact assessments through a fundamental rights checklist. Barbara Spinelli (Italy, GUE/NGL Group) reported on the limits of the existing infringement mechanism against countries that violate EU values and recommended further action. Ulrike Lunacek (Austria, Greens/EFA Group) gathered information on existing instruments that aim to safeguard democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights.Laura Ferrara (Italy, EFD Group) explored citizens’ current access to justice and ways to improve the channels available to individuals to claim their rights. György Schöpflin (Hungary, EPP) proposed an annual pan-European forum – similar to the European Semester – which would serve to discuss fundamental rights. This proposal builds on a past EP proposal for a ‘fundamental rights policy cycle’, which was supported by AGE on various occasions, including in the frame of our call for better mainstreaming of older people’s rights.

It was suggested that existing mechanisms from the EU and other international organisations like the UN or Council of Europe should be adapted and made more effective (including through the application of sanctions), and that any new mechanism should not be politicised to create an imbalance between Member States. It was also recommended that any changes take a bottom-up approach, allowing civil society and other experts to play an official role in any new procedures.

Also potentially significant in this debate is a seminar hosted by the Netherlands (Council President) on 19th February 2016 to discuss fundamental rights in the EU. The aim of this seminar was to provide a platform for Member States to share their experiences of applying the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU at a national level; accordingly, the seminar may produce further information relevant to the EP’s proposal – although official conclusions are not due to be published until the beginning of June 2016.

Developments in this area would likely mean that fundamental and human rights would play a more prominent and enforceable role in EU legislation. While potentially very transformative for the protection of fundamental rights in the EU, this is a nuanced and politically sensitive debate which will likely be developed over some time so AGE will follow closely and report any updates.

For more information you may contact Nena Georgantzi, Policy Officer,

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