The ALDE Group in the European Parliament started the year with the 2018 edition of their New Year's Seminar. The aim of the discussion was to have a detailed look at the situation of the rule of law and the state of fundamental rights in several EU Member States as well as the instruments available to uphold them.
The seminar explored the fact that European values are given the highest importance in the Treaties, but do they get the highest importance in practice and do we have the sufficient tools to ensure compliance and enforcement?
The speakers included key stakeholders, representatives from EU institutions, experts in the field of fundamental rights, civil society organisations and journalists, who discussed the latest developments in Member States most in danger of deviating from our shared European values.
The leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, offered some opening remarks: "Over the past few years we see a clear pattern in which some governments across the EU systematically undermine the democratic system and the rule of law, with the goal to preserve their power. The pattern is always the same: first, you undermine the independence and impartiality of the judiciary by politicising, or even more paralysing the highest court, and by massively replacing judges with political apointees. Second, you put critical voices under pressure. You obstruct the financing of NGOs and label anyone who receives support from abroad as ‘foreign agent’. You put public service media under control of the ruling party and sponsors of private media under extensive tax checks and other forms of political pressure. Third, the electoral laws are changed, so that even with a minority of votes, a majority of seats can be guaranteed, and political power preserved.”
On what can be done to deal with this threat, Verhofstadt proposes a 5-points approach: “First of all, we must not be silent. We must continue bringing this dangerous illiberal trends to the political agenda. To articulate the problem and to assure the courageous civil society, the democratic opposition and the free media in those countries that they are not alone. This leads me to the second point: there are not many tools provided by the Treaties, in fact there is only Article 7, which we must use in full. Thirdly, when we are obliged to use sanctions, we should do so in an intelligent way. Simply cutting EU funds would give a hand to the illiberal forces as it would help them alienate citizens from the EU. Citizens must not be the victims of the illiberal practices of their governments. Fourthly, we have to become much more pro-active in supporting civil society inside the EU. Last but not least, we need a more structural system which would allow us to check in a more objective and continuous way the situation of the rule of law in all Member States.”
The first part of the debate, moderated by Sophie in 't Veld MEP, discussed on the state of the play of the Union Pact for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights (EU pact for DRF).
Sophie in 't Veld made it clear: “We are a community of values. The rule of law and fundamental rights are there for the protection of all of our EU citizens."
"Illiberal forces use the EU as a platform to spread a retrograde agenda. Pro-europeans should be bolder in promoting tolerance & putting values first," she added.
The second part of the debate, moderated by Nathalie Griesbeck MEP, focused on the upholding the rule of law and fundamental rights in the European Union.
Nathalie Griesbeck pointed out: "To defend our base of values is an absolute necessity, they are not negotiable."
More details coming up soon on the ALDE Group's website.