The European Commission opened a stakeholder consultation to feed into the Annual Rule of Law Report. The European Civic Forum took this opportunity to highlight why the deterioration of the rule of law in Member States is also a question that relates to the European policy making.
In the European Union, Rule of law (Etat de droit, Rechtsstaat) refers to constitutional supremacy and protection of fundamental rights from public authorities and private interests. This set of norms, values, institutions that are deemed to protect from abuses, are interlinked and, thus, affected by the way human rights, democracy and social justice are implemented. Experience shows that when societies are inclusive, when inequalities are low, when the effective access to rights is ensured, there is little risk that the rule of law is disregarded.
The rule of law backsliding reflects societal tensions
Over the last decades, the economic system functioning at global and European level has been characterised by rising inequalities, growing numbers of people that feel being left behind, and shrinking social rights. All these trends have been accelerated after the 2008 financial crisis. This long process of degradation of social cohesion has produced deep socio-economic, cultural and geographical divides inside our societies. In the European Union today many feel that the current institutional channels do not ensure their needs are heard and addressed. Many have lost confidence in the ways rule of law and democracy are functioning, and consider that the universality of human rights is not reality. A democracy that fails to deliver the basic rights and needs for everyone contributes to feeding competition between groups. Nationalism, xenophobia, negation of the universality of human rights, identity politics based on exclusion are becoming substitutes for an inclusive shared future. These trends are not dominant in society, but they are worrisome as a significant part of society is looking in that direction.
Covid-619 crisis is deepening existing trends of deterioration
The European Civic Forum joins other CSOs in calling the European Commission to:
– Include systematically within the annual rule of law review a comprehensive assessment of the civic space in each Member State as an integral part of the system of checks and balances supporting democratic systems;
– Involve civil society organisations closely in all elements of the review cycle and ensure that national authorities organise an open and meaningful dialogue with civic organisations at national level on the Commission report and recommendations leading to follow up measures;
– Make sure that when deficiencies on civil society freedoms and civic space are identified, they are addressed with the whole array of tools available at EU level;
– Enable civic space at the European level by creating a solid European framework for open, transparent and regular civil dialogue and participation of associations (art. 11 TEU) to identify challenges and opportunities for a diverse and pluralist civil society and inclusive societies;
– Ensure that adequate public support and funding is granted to civil society and rights groups. Support to the civil society sector in all fields of actions (from delivery of social services to watchdog activities) should also be part of recovery measures during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.