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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Viviane Reding

Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner

A new Rule of Law initiative

Press Conference, European Parliament

Strasbourg, 11 March 2014

1/ Rule of Law

President Barroso has already outlined the reasoning of the new rule of law framework we are presenting today. It is the rule of law that helps uphold all other values. To put it simply: fundamental rights would be an empty shell without the rule of law.

Let me then briefly explain how it will work in practice.

How will it work? Three stages, three principles

  1. We could best describe it as a pre-Article 7 procedure, that follows three stages.

  2. First, the Commission, on the basis of a thorough fact-check of the situation, will assess whether there is a systemic threat to the rule of law or not. If there is, the Commission will initiate a dialogue with the Member State concerned, by sending its opinion – a "rule of law warning"– and substantiating its concerns. It will give the Member State concerned the possibility to respond.

  3. In a second stage, unless the matter has already been resolved, the Commission will issue a "rule of law recommendation" addressed to the Member State. It will ask the Member State to solve the problems identified within a fixed time limit. This recommendation can be made public.

  4. In a third stage, we will monitor how the Member State is implementing the recommendation.

  5. 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 entire process is based on a continuous dialogue between the Commission and the Member State concerned, keeping the European Parliament and Council informed.

Let me stress that this mechanism will be also based on three, fundamental principles, crucial to its effectiveness.

  1. First, the new rule of law mechanism can only be activated where there is a systemic threat to the rule of law. It will not deal with individual breaches of fundamental rights or miscarriages of justice.

  2. Second: it follows, that these criteria for activating the rule of law mechanism will apply equally to all Member States, big or small, North, South, East or West.

  3. And third: the European Commission plays the central role in this new mechanism. The Commission is the Guardian of the Treaties – so too, we must be the Guardian of the rule of law. We are the objective arbiter that is never blinded by political colours and so we must play a central role in the new framework. Of course, we will draw on external expertise of, for example the Council of Europe. But Article 7 is a Union-specific procedure. And protecting the Union's rule of law enabling the defence of the values set out in Article 2 of our Treaties is a Union business! We should not give President Putin a say in a debate which could lead to the suspension of Treaty rights of a Member State.

II/ The Future Justice Agenda

Today is an important day for justice in Europe: we are proposing an EU Rule of Law Mechanism; and we are also presenting our vision for just what that future of justice should look like.

  1. In the space of just a few years, justice policy has come out of the intergovernmental shadows into the limelight of European Union activity.

  2. We have taken steps to develop a true European area of Justice built on mutual trust at the service of our citizens and businesses. So, what's next? A vision would not be a vision if it were not to point out challenges that need to be tackled.

  3. In a nutshell, we have identified three main challenges for the future EU justice policy: Trust, Mobility and Growth.

  4. Trust: Trust is not made by decree. It needs action. We have laid solid foundations for the promotion of mutual trust, but they need to be strengthened to ensure that citizens, practitioners and judges fully trust judicial decisions irrespective of the country where these have been taken.

  5. Mobility: European citizens and businesses are increasingly taking advantage of the rights conferred upon them by the Treaty, but obstacles remain. Justice policies should be used to make free movement for our citizens even "more free" by removing daily obstacles they still face.

  6. Growth: Our action in the field of justice policy should continue to contribute to economic recovery, growth and tackling unemployment. Structural reforms must be pursued so that justice systems can deliver swift, reliable and trustworthy justice thereby supporting other EU policies.

  7. To tackle these challenges, our action should focus on consolidating what has already been achieved, codifying law and practice and when necessary, complementing with new initiatives.

  8. The incremental steps we have taken over the past years can be followed by bigger leaps in the future. This will require Treaty changes.

I believe we should be at least as ambitious when it comes to the rule of law and justice policies as the European Union is with building up new financial solidarity mechanisms, common fiscal rules and the Banking Union. While banks and budgets are certainly very important for our economy, Europe is much more than simply banks and budgets.

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