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Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship

The EU and the Rule of Law – what next?

Viviane Reding

Speaking at the Centre for European Policy Studies in September, Vice-President Reding outlined the possibilities of introducing a new rule of law framework for the European Union, calling on leaders to "be at least as ambitious when it comes to the rule of law and fundamental rights as the European Union currently is with building up new financial solidarity mechanisms, common fiscal rules and Banking Union." Such a framework would be ready before summer 2014.

Vice-President Reding explained that the European Union is a Community based on the rule of law, where all Member States need to be concerned if there are any deficiencies in the independence, efficiency or quality of the justice system in another Member State. She noted that, in parallel to the economic and financial crisis, the European Union has also been confronted on several occasions with a true "rule of law" crisis, citing the Commission's intervention in Roma crisis in France in summer 2010; the Hungarian crisis that started at the end of 2011; and the Romanian rule of law crisis in the summer of 2012.

The Vice-President drew up a blueprint for a future rule of law mechanism for the European Union. In a first step, she proposed to make full use of the potential offered already by the existing Treaties, stating that she believes " we could take a similar approach for Article 7 procedures as in Commission infringement proceedings, by giving "formal notice" to a Member State where we have reason to believe that a systemic rule of law crisis is on the way to developing."

In a second step, the EU's Justice Commissioner proposes several options that would be possible with an amendment of the Treaty. "I could imagine that we present several options for such a mechanism: more pragmatic ones, as well as more ambitious ones, such as lowering the very high thresholds for triggering at least the first stage of the Article 7 procedure; extending the powers of the Fundamental Rights Agency, or abolishing Article 51 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, so as to make all fundamental rights directly applicable in the Member States," said Reding.

The Vice-President also stressed that, these big federalising steps need to draw on the necessary expertise and take care to avoid any anti-Eastern bias, clarifying that "Any new tool to safeguard the rule of law has to be applicable and in the same way – on the same threshold of a serious and systematic threat to the rule of law - to all Member States, big or small, North or South, East or West."