Strasbourg, 11 March 2014
European Commission presents a framework to safeguard the rule of law in the European Union
Today the European Commission adopted a new framework for addressing systemic threats to the rule of law in any of the EU's 28 Member States. The initiative comes after the College of Commissioners held two orientation debates on the rule of law on 28 August 2013 and on 25 February 2014, which concluded that there is a need to develop a tool to deal, at EU level, with systemic threats to the rule of law. The new rule of law framework will be complementary to infringement procedures - when EU law has been breached – and to the so-called 'Article 7 procedure' of the Lisbon Treaty which, at its most severe, allows for the suspension of voting rights in case of a "serious and persistent breach" of EU values by a Member State. The new framework establishes an early warning tool allowing the Commission to enter into a dialogue with the Member State concerned to prevent the escalation of systemic threats to the rule of law. If no solution is found within the new EU rule of law framework, Article 7 will always remain the last resort to resolve a crisis and ensure compliance with European Union values. The new framework does not constitute or claim new competencies for the Commission but makes transparent how the Commission exercises its role under the Treaties.
European Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso said: "The rule of law is one of the founding pillars of the European Union. This is what our Union is built upon. The European Commission has a crucial role in upholding the rule of law as the Guardian of the Treaties. I have systematically pointed to the need for a better framework which allows the Commission to intervene early and transparently in cases of serious and systemic threats to the rule of law in a Member State. Today, the Commission is delivering on this commitment making sure that, in future, and based on our recent past experience, we can prevent and effectively resolve rule of law crises in our Member States."
"Respect for the rule of law is a prerequisite for the protection of all other fundamental values upon which our Union is founded. The European Commission is the Guardian of the Treaties – so too, we must be one of the Guardians of the rule of law," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. "In the past few years, every time there has been a threat or a potential threat to the rule of law in one Member State, all institutions have turned to the Commission as the impartial arbiter asking us to take action. Today we are putting in place the tools necessary to act and protect our citizens from threats to the rule of law in our Union. The European Union is based on respect of the rule of law and on respect of the equality of all Member States. It follows then that the new tool to safeguard the rule of law will be applicable under the same threshold of a serious and systemic threat to the rule of law to all Member States, big or small, North, South, East or West."
The main characteristics of the new rule of law framework
A three-stage process
The purpose of the framework is to enable the Commission to find a solution with the Member State concerned in order to prevent the emerging of a systemic threat to the rule of law that could develop into a "clear risk of a serious breach" which would potentially trigger the use of Article 7 TEU. Where there are clear indications of a systemic threat to the rule of law in a Member State, the Commission can launch a "pre-Article 7 procedure" by initiating a dialogue with that Member State. The process has three stages (see graphic in Annex 1):
The entire process is based on a continuous dialogue between the Commission and the Member State concerned. The Commission will keep the European Parliament and Council regularly and closely informed.
Compliance with the rule of law is a prerequisite for the protection of all fundamental values listed in Article 2 TEU. It is also a prerequisite for upholding all rights and obligations deriving from the Treaties and from international law. Since 2009, the European Commission has been confronted on several occasions with crisis events in some Member States, which revealed specific rule of law problems. In his 2012 State of the Union address, President Barroso recalled that a Political Union also means that the rule of law, as a founding value of the EU, must be strengthened, announcing an initiative to this end (SPEECH/12/596). The resolution adopted by the European Parliament on 3 July 2013 and the Justice and Home Affairs Council conclusions of 6 June 2013 shared this diagnosis (see also SPEECH/13/348).
The College of Commissioners had a first orientation debate on how to better safeguard the rule of law in the European Union during its seminar in August 2013. Speaking at the Centre for European Policy Studies in September, Vice-President Reding then outlined her vision for a possible new rule of law framework for the European Union (SPEECH/13/677). At the Assises de la Justice, a high-level conference on the future of justice in the EU in November 2013 which was attended by over 600 stakeholders and interested parties, one session was specifically dedicated to the topic "Towards a new rule of law mechanism".
On the basis of all these discussions, the College of Commissioners held another orientation debate on 25 February 2014 before adopting the new rule of law framework presented today.
For more information
President José Manuel Barroso's 2012 State of the Union speech:
Homepage of European Commission President José Manuel Barroso:
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:
Annex 1: The new EU rule of law framework
Annex 2: The rule of law in the Union legal system
In its case law, the Court of Justice has highlighted a number of general principles of law stemming from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States that are linked to the rule of law. These include:
Source: A more comprehensive version of these principles and the case law can be found in Annex 1 of the Communication "A new EU Framework to strengthen the Rule of Law".