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Connecting the rule of law with EU values and fundamental rights

The EU Scoreboard on democracy and fundamental rights was the main focus of a meeting of the PES Democracy Network on Wednesday 23 September 2015. The network gathered experts, MPs and MEPS in Brussels at its second meeting of the year to discuss the proposal which could help to monitor the compliance of Member States with article 2 of the EU treaty. Since the first meeting in 2013, strengthening the respect of the rule of law and fundamental rights has been one of the main aims of the Network.

MEP Tanja Fajon, Chair of the PES Democracy Network and Vice-President of the S&D Group opened the meeting by introducing the work already going on to propose the scoreboard. “Now more than ever it is of fundamental importance that Member states stick to their EU values. Europe faces huge challenges, our future as Europeans is at risk. Populist movements and parties are questioning the very essence of our Europe. We call for Member States (MS) to respect democracy, the rule of law, human rights and rights of minorities, to have a market economy which works and accepts the obligations and intent of the EU (the so called Copenhagen criteria) before - and above all after - their accession to the EU. Fundamental rights, the rule of law and democracy cannot be taken for granted and it is our duty, as social democrats, to help the Commission to be the guardian of the treaties and to react when a MS is moving away from our values”, she said.

“Democracy is one of the core priorities of the Party of European Socialists. As Social Democrats we stand firmly by fundamental rights and the rule of law. Our commitment is to protect, promote and to strengthen these rights in our daily political work, because we believe in a Europe which offers the space for everybody’s expression. Unfortunately there are many countries in which the EU’s core values and fundamental rights are under pressure. That's why we social democrats fight for democracy every day. Not alone, but side by side with other democratic forces and civil society organisations”, added Carin Jämtin, Vice President of the PES and Secretary General of the Social Democratic Party of Sweden.

“The EU has helped many countries to improve women’s rights, when or since joining the EU. But today, it is unacceptable to see women’s rights and fundamental values being violated without any concrete action taken by the EU. We need the EU to stand firm on fundamental rights, rule of law and civil liberties and therefore enhancing mechanisms and sanctions to ensure these, are still essential. I can’t accept an EU that turns a blind eye to women’s rights or to offering protection to refugees”, stressed Zita Gurmai, President of PES Women.

Birgit Sippel, S&D Coordinator for the Socialist & Democrat group on the LIBE committee was invited to the meeting to explain what the European Parliament is doing to protect democracy and what the next steps will be. “The respect for the rule of law is at the heart of our common European project. However, recent years have shown numerous examples of Member States deferring from this principle. Current EU instruments are often too weak or too politically sensitive to be used for promoting citizens' rights. We urgently need to reflect on new ways how to ensure respect for all fundamental rights, by connecting the rule of law with the values enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty of the EU (TEU) and namely respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality and respect for human rights. I am therefore happy that our Socialist family has taken the initiative to reflect on innovative ways for the promotion of this fundamental European value and I hope that this will contribute to further stimulating the debate.”

A valuable contribution to the meeting was made by Professor Cesare Pinelli, from the University La Sapienza in Rome, who published a paper “Protecting the fundamentals – Art.7 TEU and beyond” as a member of the FEPS Jurist Network in 2012. “While the European Commission and the Council have been discussing whether a complementary mechanism to article 7 should be put in place, we witness the attack on our core values and fundamental rights by some EU Member States”. Speaking about art.7 TEU and the possibility to go beyond it, he stressed that “Complementary mechanisms could play an important role in defending fundamental rights within the EU in the long run, even though art 7 contains an early warning system which could be triggered by three quarters of EU Member States overcoming the unanimity trap”. He agreed on the idea to launch an independent network of experts and he wished for an immediate set-up and action of this body, as explained in the proposal for a scoreboard on Democracy and fundamental rights which the meeting focused on.

The discussion was productive and the exchange of views contributed to give more strength to the work of the PES Democracy Network and of the working group dedicated to the topic. Further meetings will follow and an event to further discuss the ideas will be arranged at the end of 2016. 

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