The European Union is going through a crisis of values. Values that are based on Rule of Law, and fundamental rights and freedoms, are at risk not only in Hungary and Poland but also elsewhere in the EU, writes European Parliament Vice-President, and leader of Progressive Slovakia Michal Šimečka MEP.
This op-ed was originally published in ALDE Party's Liberal Bulletin in December 2022.
I come from Slovakia, a country where the Rule of Law has been frequently violated by a group of politicians who defend the interests of oligarchs. Ján Kuciak, a young investigative journalist, together with his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, paid with their lives for bringing to light corruption schemes with direct political links. While the political leadership has since been changed, the families of Jan and Martina are still waiting for justice, five years later.
Apart from the Rule of Law issues, crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine have ravaged Europe. Our shared values have been put to test, once again, and the growing fear and despair of Europeans – caused by inflation and the energy crisis – are, consequently, misused by undemocratic leaders.
However, these crises demonstrate why the European community has existed for decades. We have always been stronger together, and thus must continue on this joint European path and act in unity. We must protect our values against those who promote autocracy over democracy, corruption over the Rule of Law and Russia over Europe.
Nowadays, we have an effective Rule of Law Conditionality Mechanism that allows sanctioning Member States if they violate the Rule of Law or democratic processes. This Mechanism consists of removing the control of European funds from governments misusing those funds to the detriment of their own as well as EU citizens. Indeed, these types of abuses influence the financial interests of the entire European Union.
However, for almost two years, this Mechanism remained in the drawer of the European Commission before eventually being triggered against the autocratic regime of Viktor Orbán in Hungary. I have no doubt on why the Commission activated the Conditionality Mechanism involving up to a third of the funds allocated to Hungary. To do that, the Commission must have found evidence of a systemic problem. Because, in today’s Hungary, the corruption and misuse of EU funds are, unfortunately, an integral part of the governing system.
This example should serve as a lesson to all of us: to those Member States, who might be tempted to disrespect our shared values, to the European institutions that might have been operating under ‘ostrich politics’ for a long time, but, also to all those countries who are hoping to join the European Union in future. The EU must act in time and effectively, while giving the Member States the space to repair the systemic defects.
Ultimately, one thing matters when it comes to European democracy: whether our values-based project is still attractive to European – and global – citizens or not. We had a positive example earlier this year when Ukraine and Moldova expressed their hope to join the EU. But, if we want these candidate countries to demonstrate they respect our common values and to promote them as a condition for accession, we must also ensure that the same respect is guaranteed among all Member States. Only then will we be able to truly protect our common and shared European values.