Parliament warns the rule of law at risk in EU member states

LGBTIQ+ murders in Bratislava: Lit candles and flowers laid by mourners in front of Tepláreň on 14 October 2022.

In June, the European citizens will vote for their representatives in the European Parliament. The European elections represent a crucial moment for the existence of the Union. They should be a celebration of the EU values.

However, in some EU members, Democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights are at risk, including civil society, media, independent authorities, and vulnerable groups.

On Wednesday, February 28, MEPs held a debate in the European Parliament focusing on specific or systemic threats in various EU member states, such as Spain, France, Greece, Slovakia, Malta, and Hungary. They criticised the Commission’s inaction in safeguarding EU values and warned about democratic backsliding across many member states. 

The Committee on Civil Liberties endorsed the European Commission’s 2023 Rule of Law report in January, and the Parliament took note of some positive developments, including the new Polish government’s efforts to strengthen the rule of law and media freedom. However, persistent threats to Democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights were highlighted, along with specific problems or incidents in several EU member states. 

The text was adopted following a debate in plenary on Wednesday afternoon, with 374 votes for, 113 against, and 45 abstentions.

Problems with justice, corruption, and media freedom

Parliament has taken note of the differences in judicial independence across member states, particularly in Hungary, where high-level judges are appointed. 

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have expressed concern over proposed changes in Slovakia’s institutions and media landscape, as well as the proposed amnesty law in Spain. 

Corruption remains a significant concern for Parliament, which again condemns the reported discriminatory, non-transparent, and unfair practices against companies in specific sectors in Hungary and the use of EU funds to enrich political allies of the country’s government. 

Obstacles for whistleblowers also persist. MEPs want an end to citizenship by investment schemes, such as the one in Malta, and draw attention to the issue of money laundering, which is intrinsically linked to corruption. 

The independence of oversight authorities is also under threat, such as in the case of Greece’s handling of the spyware scandal. Additionally, work still needs to be done to protect journalists from SLAPPs and other threats.

Shrinking civil society and threats to vulnerable groups

Civil society faces challenges in many countries.

In Slovakia, the government announced plans to restrict the work of NGOs and stigmatise organisations receiving foreign funding. 

MEPs deplore the use of excessive force and discriminatory treatment by police and the disproportionate use of force against demonstrators, specifically referencing mass detentions in France and the killings of three young Roma in Greece. 

Parliament says rights backsliding and the undermining of minority rights impact religious minorities, LGBTIQ people, women, refugees and migrants. 

Once again, MEPs stress that the Commission’s monitoring is insufficient and should evolve to include concrete enforcement action, condemning the sometimes “open and unashamed non-compliance” of several member states with EU law.

Rapporteur Sophie in ‘t Veld (Renew, NL) commented during the press conference that preceded the vote: “The Commission’s Rule of Law Report should treat each member state equally and objectively. Political pressure from governments must not be allowed to influence it, because Europeans have a right to know how the rule of law is faring in their country – wherever they may live.”

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