Civil society perspectives on the European Rule of Law Mechanism
The European Economic and Social Committee organised on Thursday, 4 November a conference on the developments in the EU in the area of fundamental rights and the rule of law in 2020-2021. The conference aimed to be a stock taking exercise and with an ambition to be organised on a yearly basis.
The conference offered a space for dialogue amongst stakeholders, in particular the ones which contributed to country visits led by the EESC Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law (FRRL) Group in 2020-2021 and to the first two European Commission Rule of Law Reports published in 2020 and 2021. You can find the PA contribution to the rule of law consultation here and more information on the latest report here.
One of the most important point mentioned by several speakers during the day were the measures taken by the governments due to the Covid-19 pandemics and the challenges they represented for fundamental rights and rule of law in the EU MS. Particularly, the second annual report published in July this year stressed the importance of checks and balances, which were tested during the pandemics. The second Rule of Law report goes more in depth, and in comparison with the 2020 edition, it contains input from all Member States, as well as the virtual country visits and follows up on the first report.
The discussions during the day, including in parallel breakout sessions, focused on the four key themes which structure the European Rule of Law Mechanism: Justice, Media, Corruption, Checks and balances.
Several of the PA´s partners contributed to the discussion throughout the day, particularly on the issue of checks and balances and role of civil society. They made the points included in the joint contribution to the rule of law consultations.
Discussing the main trends in Europe: a discussion on national experiences and European perspectives, Linda Ravo from the Civil Liberties reiterated that not only civil society plays a watchdog role and exposes corruption, violations of fundamental rights but it also helps people to enforce their rights and promotes values. However, channels for meaningful participation of civil society are limited, for example when it comes to the access to policy makes. Specifically on the Rule of law report, Linda made the point that the report of descriptive nature is not enough and we need concrete actions instead. She welcomed the country specific recommendations and underlined the importance of transparency and inclusiveness of the process to include civil society stakeholders.
Alexandrina Najmowicz from the European Civic Forum speaking about Main trends in Europe – Experience sharing, described the current trend of shrinking space for civic society, which has been observed for years now. Alexandrina expressed disappointment with the Rule of law report, although in the second editions there have been already some improvements. She claimed that checks and balances were not implemented properly, and civil society was mentioned in this chapter only marginally instead of recognising its full role. Consequently, Alexandrina suggested a separate chapter on the civic space to be included in the report with five indicators for a thorough analysis – favourable legal environment, finance, participation in consultations, duty of the state to protect the freedoms, the contribution to the civil society to protecting the rule of law. She also praised the European Parliament as true partner in the area, mentioning the report on the civic space, report suggesting a statute for European cross border associations and non-profit organisations.