From bad to worse? On the Commission and the Council’s rule of law initiatives

von Dimitry Kochenov

The rule of law is one of the fundamental values on which the EU is founded according to Article 2 TEU. Faced with a rising number of ‘rule of law crises’ in a number of EU countries, the Commission adopted a new ‘pre-Article 7’ procedure last March in order to address any instance where there is a evidence of a systemicthreat to the rule of law. Having criticised the Commission’s initiative primarily on the (unconvincing) ground that it would breach the principle of conferral which governs the allocation of powers between the EU and its Member States, the Council proposed its own solution: a rule of law dialogue between national governments and to be held once a year in Brussels.

Both initiatives, and in particular, the Council’s, appear grossly inadequate to tackle the problem of ‘rule of law backsliding post EU accession’ to quote Frans Timmermans, the First Vice-President of the Commission in charge inter alia of the Rule of Law.

Let us begin with the Commission’s proposal. The rationale underlying its new mechanism is that the current EU legal framework is ill designed when it comes to addressing internal, systemic threats to this principle and more generally, to EU values. The former President of the European Commission himself called in 2013 for a ‘better developed set of instruments’ that would fill the space that exists at present between the Commission’s infringement powers laid down in Articles 258–260 TFEU, and the so-called ‘nuclear option’ (suspension of a Member State’s EU membership) laid down in Article 7 TEU. Both procedures suffer indeed from a number of procedural and substantive shortcomings, with the consequence that Article 7 TEU has never been triggered whereas the Commission’s infringement powers have proved ineffective to remedy systemic violations of EU values.

Numerous proposals were made like prior to the publication of the Commission’s Communication last March ...

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