20 July 2021

The European Commission unveils Rule of law report before the summer break

Rule of law report 2021

On 20th July, the European Commission after its last College of Commissioners’ meeting published the second EU-wide Report on the Rule of Law with a Communication looking at the situation in the EU as a whole and dedicated country chapters on each Member State. The 2021 report looks at the new developments since last September, deepening the assessment of issues identified in the previous report and taking into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The adoption of the 2021 Rule of Law Report marks the start of a new cycle of dialogue and monitoring.

Philanthropy Advocacy in its contribution to the targeted consultation asked the European Commission to involve civil society organisations, including the philanthropic organisations, in the design of rule of law reporting structures, reporting consultations, country visits and by requesting civil society feedback on the information received from Member States and on the outcomes and findings of the report. The Commission seems to have taken this call on-board as it writes in its report that the:

civil society is a key partner for the EU in its work to promote a stronger European rule of law culture. In preparation of the report, the Commission held meetings to discuss rule of law developments with stakeholders such as European networks, national and European civil society organisations and professional organisations. Civil society organisations also made a large number of written contributions as input for the Report.

In our contribution to the consultation, we also called on the Commission to reconsider the methodology of the questionnaire and that questions around civil society are given a more prominent place in the questionnaire with a separate thematic focus section.  However, the 2021 report follows the structure of the 2020 report, focusing only on four elements: justice systems; the anti-corruption framework; media pluralism and media freedom; and other institutional issues linked to checks and balances. Enabling framework for civil society is included only as a part of the 4th pillar on checks and balances supporting democratic systems based on the rule of law.

The Commission stated the report shows many positive developments in the Member States, including where challenges identified in the 2020 report are being addressed.

According to the report, a number of EU countries are taking steps to:

  • strengthen judicial independence
  • strengthen anti-corruption frameworks
  • strengthen institutional checks & balances

However, on the negative side, in some EU countries there are:

  • reforms that challenge judicial independence
  • high risks of political interference in media
  • threats to the safety of journalists
  • challenges to primacy of EU law.

With the report conclusions, the Commission invited the Council and the European Parliament to have general and country-specific debates on the basis of the report, as well as national parliaments and other key actors to intensify national debates. The Commission also invited the Member States to effectively take up the challenges identified in the Report.

The Philanthropy Advocacy team will closely follow the developments around the rule of law, both on the European and national level, particularly where they are closely connected with the restrictions on civic space, erosion of fundamental rights and democratic backsliding.