While Council and European Parliament are still negotiating the linkage of respective principles with the EU budget, the EU Commission presented the first edition of its annual Rule of Law Report on 30 September 2020. Prior to this, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán called for the resignation of the responsible Commission Vice President Věra Jourová.
In future, paying monies within the scope of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFR) shall be linked to the adherence to the rule of law principles – that at least is the wish of many. However, this idea has been criticised most of all by Member States Hungary and Poland. Now, the EU Commission has for the first time published its Rule of Law Report, which will be published annually in future. It contains country chapters for all Member States and comprises four main pillars - the national justice systems, the anti-corruption framework, media pluralism and other institutional checks and balances. In the report, the Commission voices serious concerns regarding the independence of Polish and Hungarian justice systems. However, according to the Report, there are also challenges to the rule of law with regard to corruption (for example in Croatia and Czechia), to political pressure on the media (for example in Bulgaria and Malta) and to personal attacks on journalists (among other in Slovenia and Spain). But also Austria is being mentioned. In her case, criticism is aimed for example at the Justice Minister’s right of direction towards the Public Prosecutor Office as well as the unfair and non-transparent allocation of state advertising. The Report also directs its attention on measures that were taken within the scope of the Coronavirus crisis.
“Prerequisite for the protection of other values”
The Rule of Law Report shall have preventive character and is to be published annually in future. According to the German Presidency it shall also serve as a basis for a dialogue in the Council of the European Union on the rule of law. It shall comprise an annual debate on the Report as a whole as well as the systemic problems in the EU on the one hand, but also a semi-annual debate on the country-specific chapters of the report on the other. The aim is – according to the German Presidency programme – a better understanding of the specific situation in individual Member States to “identify risks at an early stage and to be in position to offer reciprocal support”.
Orbán demands Jourová’s resignation
In the meantime, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has written to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to demand the resignation of Vice Commission President Věra Jourová. Jourová had told the German news magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ in an interview that Orbán was building a “sick democracy”. She also referred to Orbán’s great influence on the Hungarian media landscape. Jourová is concerned that as a result, a large part of the Hungarian population will no longer be able to form an independent opinion of the head of state. However, von der Leyen has backed Jourová. She would have full confidence in the Commissioner and would closely cooperate with her concerning rule of law issues. Criticism aimed at Orbán’s statements also comes from the European Parliament. Hence, SPÖ-MEP Bettina Vollath gave Jourová her full support: “when a woman addresses deficiencies in clear language, authoritarian rulers get nervous “.
German compromise proposal does not meet expectations
However, Vollath also criticises the compromise proposal of the German Presidency for a rule of law mechanism within the frame work of the MFF, which was presented on 28 September 2020. According to Vollath, no leverage would be possible if the work of independent courts would be restricted, media freedom was abolished or if LGBT rights were treated with contempt’.