Written by Eva-Maria Poptcheva
The European Union is founded on values common to all Member States. These are supposed to ensure a level of homogeneity among Member States, while respecting their national identities, so facilitating the development of a European identity and their integration. Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union provides mechanisms to enforce EU values, based on a political decision by the Council with the participation of the Commission and Parliament. Such decisions are exempt from judicial review.
The current mechanism is said to be unusable due to the high thresholds needed to adopt a decision in the Council, as well as Member States’ political unwillingness to use it. Various new approaches have been proposed by academics and by political actors, from a new independent monitoring body – the ‘Copenhagen Commission’, through extending the mandate of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), to introducing the possibility for the EU to suspend national measures suspected of infringing EU law.
The European Parliament launched the idea of a ‘European fundamental rights policy cycle’ with the cooperation of EU institutions, Member States and the FRA, as a ‘new Copenhagen mechanism’ to monitor the situation in Member States. This mechanism would incorporate an early-warning system, with ‘formal notices’ to Member States where a breach in the rule of law appears likely, before formal proceedings under Article 7, and a ‘freezing procedure’ for national measures infringing upon EU values.
In 2014, the Commission announced ‘A new EU framework to strengthen the Rule of Law’, with a structured dialogue between the Commission and the Member State concerned and Commission recommendations and follow-up. On an initiative of the Italian Presidency, the Council decided in December 2014 to hold an annual dialogue, in the General Affairs Council, on the ‘rule of law’ in Member States.
This briefing updates an earlier one published in October 2013.