As issues concerning the rule of law continue to threaten the fundamental rights of EU citizens, the Commission has released the 2021 Rule of Law Report, offering an overview of the current developments in the Member States. Recognising the key role that civil society and media organisations play in the defence of the EU’s foundational values, the Commission has tried to involve these key actors through a public consultation. However, the Commission’s approach throughout this process has been flawed and has failed to translate into the meaningful involvement of those actors whose voices must be heard. As a result, a coalition of civil society organisations and networks representing 61 organisations have united to offer recommendations for the Commission on how it can improve the credibility, inclusiveness and impact of the Rule of Law Report.
In this joint statement, the Commission is asked to first, adopt a clear, more inclusive and transparent methodology for non-governmental participation and to allow a more fair and reasonable time frame for this to take place. Secondly, it is advanced that the Report should consider all rule of law issues, including largely neglected issues such as the situation of public service media, civic space, and the widespread and systematic violations of fundamental rights. Lastly, the statement calls upon the Commission to strengthen the potential for impact of the report with concrete recommendations, clear linkages with other EU frameworks and policy instruments, an alert mechanism, and transparent dialogue on follow-up.
Civil society, media actors and other non-governmental stakeholders have shown a deep interest in engaging and contributing to the rule of law consultation, allocating staff and resources into making extensive submissions. However, this input has not been satisfactorily reflected in the Report and, as the statement recalls, “reform is needed to make the mechanism credible and effective, and indeed make it a preventive tool, with the real power to strengthen the rule of law and prevent challenges from emerging or deteriorating.” Accordingly, the Commission is asked to swiftly and fully implement the recommendations in this statement. The rule of law crisis continues to be a salient challenge for advocates of democracy and human rights across the EU, and the voices of non-governmental stakeholders will prove essential to its defence.