For an Effective Rule of Law

The Rule of Law means that political power is subject to the law, not above it. At the European level, this principle is reflected in the supremacy of EU law over national law and government.

The conflict between divergent approaches to the Rule of Law has always generated tensions within the EU. Indeed, when genuinely motivated, these divergences are rooted in deep cultural and historical differences between member states and their institutions. 

On the one hand, there is no shared agreement on the Rule of Law, as it emerged in the conflict raised a few years ago between the EU institutions (namely the Commission) and the governments of Poland and Hungary. On that occasion, the latter claimed they were respecting the ‘formal interpretation' of the Rule of Law, which is limited to principles of legality like abolishing retrospective laws and ensuring legal security. 

On the other hand, the Lisbon Treaty, the Treaty on the European Union, and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union - that is, the founding charts of the EU - all adopt a ‘thicker’, more substantive interpretation of the Rule of Law. This version encompasses human and fundamental minority rights, media safeguards, the fight against corruption, as well as the effective separation of powers, the independence of judges vis-à-vis the executive power, and the freedom of the press

However, the question cannot be confined to often specious claims of socio-cultural differences. As Eumans stated in a 2019 Petition to the European Parliament, inclusion in the EU demands complying with political values and institutional practices that fully align with the substantive Rule of Law. A minimal interpretation contradicts the treaties grounding the European Union and needs to be more effective in providing integration among the Member States. 

Moreover, strengthening international and European law according to a wider interpretation of the Rule of Law is necessary for affirming the citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms in front of the political actions of national governments, as in the case of the countries of the Pact of Višegrad. While sovereignist policies tend to vindicate forms of supremacy to the national power, the EU’s Rule of Law poses citizens and their rights as individuals at the core of the legislative action. It is this human-centred approach that makes the EU unique in the international landscape. 

We know these issues touch on cultural and political beliefs engrained in European national identities. For this reason, institutional, top-down channels are inadequate and need to be revised. These divergences can be harmonised differently, as witnessed by the works of the Citizens’ Assemblies at the Conference on the Future of the European Union. People originally from all over Europe managed to find an agreement on sensitive topics thanks to an engaging and participatory context where they could frankly and respectfully discuss while developing a true sense of European citizenship. Constructing a European, transnational ‘public sphere’ must be a bottom-up process. This is what Eumans stands for!