The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and 61 other organisations have raised concerns over the methodology, purpose, and impact of the European Commission’s annual Rule of Law Report.
The Commission’s report is published every year and covers the rule of law situation in all EU Member States.
ICJ said they question the level of transparency around how the report is created, the methodology used, and the scope of the report, which they claim “seems to omit crucial systemic and widespread human rights violations that directly affect respect for the rule of law in the EU.”
In terms of transparency and methodology, the statement asserts that the public consultation is too short, and many non-government actors contribute but have no transparency on whether their submissions are being fed into the report. This lack of transparency harms the legitimacy and credibility of the process.
“The manner in which civil society and professional organisations were involved lacked clear criteria and transparency on who was and was not invited to participate, and why. Many of those who submitted to the consultation were not invited to meetings, and lists of contacts sent by civil society networks were not used,” it states.
It also noted that many reports overlooked “serious media freedom issues-particularly related to the capture and state control over public service media.”
In addition, reports barely mention other media freedom issues such as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, smear campaigns against journalists, and the abuse of provisions regarding free speech.
The report also failed to map the scale of systemic human rights abuses that directly affect respect for the rule of law in the EU.
“Without considering these systemic human rights violations, it’s impossible to assess the principles of accountability, effective remedy, and access to justice.”
They also criticized the fact that the report doesn’t include specific recommendations. This would help increase the impact of the report as well as its effectiveness.
“The rather descriptive approach to the report by the European Commission carries a great risk of underestimation of the serious rule of law violations of systematic and deliberate nature,” said Karolína Babická, legal adviser at the ICJ.
“The bureaucratic approach fails to point to different levels of violations among the Member States, especially given the dire situation in Poland and Hungary.”
It continues that there’s an apparent lack of any follow up to the reports, giving little guidance to governments who may want to make improvements. It also prevents watchdogs, including civil society, from seeking accountability.
The organizations call on the Commission to adopt concrete, country-specific recommendations, use explicit language to identify systemic violations in the rule of law, set up an alert and rapid response system, and conduct a robust evaluation of the report’s effectiveness, among other things.
“These recommendations should be swiftly and fully implemented by the European Commission, that is now preparing its third rule of law report of 2022. That would also be in line with the commitment by the Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen to include country-specific recommendations in the Rule of Law reports in 2022, as mentioned in the State of the Union address,” said Babická.