“Rule of law needs extra attention” – this is not an article or a call for action launched by civic activists or NGOs, but the very words pronounced by Frans Timmermans himself very recently, during a citizens’ dialogue in The Hague.
This first quote of the year mirrors exactly the multiple warnings sent by NGOs, whether they act in member states as in Hungary, in Poland, or at European and global levels. While Orban government in Hungary repeatedly and systematically threatened the very principles of solidarity and fundamental rights over the last years, a new conservative actor burst with a similar attitude onto the European scene. The concept of “illiberal democracy” put into practice by Mr. Orban has a dramatic extension with Poland. The new government run by the Law and Justice Party who won the October 2015 elections has already started dismantling the independence of the judiciary and pressing on the capacity of the Constitutional court to play its role as in a democratic State, and is about to muzzle public media, considered as too much critical of the new government. Izabela Kloc, a Polish MP, told, not ashamed at all by such a direct attack to the freedom of media that “in a parliamentary democracy, it is unacceptable that [public] media only criticise the work of the government”.
Facing such worrying trends which put a serious threat on European Democracy, the response of the European institutions is still lacking serious impact. While the European Parliament asked several times to investigate and also activate the Rule of Law mechanism as regards Hungary, the European Commission chose arguing on technical issues and case by case, to finally end up concluding in early December 2015 that “no systemic threat to democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary, although it has brought several procedures against it for infringing EU laws”. Concerning the Polish case, the Commission seems to take some first steps to discuss the issue at least. It has now to be confirmed that the issue will be considered seriously.
Beyond the threats coming from Hungary and Poland, the ways the Greek economic crisis and the refugee routes to Europe were managed, showed again the weakness of the European Union when it comes to Democracy and Fundamental Rights in Europe. These weaknesses regarding the very values claimed by the EU project fed a rise of xenophobic and racist speeches and acts.
In our view, beyond the welcome mobilisation of those who promote tolerance and mutual understanding, such as religious and humanist forces, EU institutions should rely on civil society organisations which follow the situation closely on the ground and develop into practice the values of solidarity in the various fields of their action.
Therefore, we wish the year 2016 brings about more dialogue and better cooperation on the side of the European institutions. As they say: 2016, No business as usual! We take the word for.