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EU takes action to protect rule of law - 12/03/2014

Justice statue and European flag © EU

The EU is taking action to ensure that EU countries comply with the rule of law by introducing a “warning tool” to help resolve problems early on.

Procedures are already in place to deal with countries that persistently breach the rule of law—the principles of law enabling the EU’s fundamental values to be upheld, e.g. ensuring that all citizens are treated equally before the law and that public powers are exercised lawfully. At its most severe, Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty allows the EU to suspend a country’s voting rights if there is a systematic breakdown in the rule of law.

However, the new framework will enable the EU to enter into dialogue with the country at an earlier stage, to help prevent the situation escalating to that level. Known as a “pre-Article 7 procedure”, it will be triggered whenever the threat of a systematic breakdown in the rule of law emerges, rather than for individual breaches.

Warning tool

The system will consist of 3 stages involving a continuous dialogue between the EU and the country concerned.

  • Stage 1: the EU will gather information to determine whether a systematic threat to the rule of law exists. If it does, the EU will highlight its concerns and give the country the chance to respond.
  • Stage 2: if the issues have not been resolved at the first stage, the EU will publicly issue a recommendation, identifying the problems and giving the country a deadline for making improvements.
  • Stage 3: the EU will monitor the steps taken by the country. If the problems concerned are not dealt with adequately , it can have recourse to Article 7 procedures.

Past experiences

The EU has faced challenges to the rule of law on several occasions in recent years, including

  • France’s Roma crisis in 2010 and
  • threats to the independence of the judiciary during Romania’s 2012 political crisis.

The new framework gives the EU the tools to respond to such events more effectively and efficiently.

Press release – framework to safeguard the rule of law in the EU 

Q&A – The future EU justice and home affairs agendas

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