The European Commission’s Rule of Law Report 2020 was published on 30 September 2020. It consists of a general report and 27 country chapters (available in all EU languages) presenting Member State-specific assessments. A shortened version of country chapters with information regarding all EU Member States is available here. The Commission also prepared a factsheet on the Rule of Law toolbox and a factsheet on the Rule of Law Mechanism.
In preparation of the report, the Commission was assisted by input from all Member States as well as different stakeholders (over 200 written contributions), including among others, the CCBE and the Law Society of England and Wales.
Both positive and negative developments in respect of each Member State’s adherence to the Rule of Law are covered by the report. It is aimed at deepening dialogue and joint awareness with the ultimate goal to prevent problems from arising or even deepening in some Member States.
In essence, the report provides an assessment of 4 key areas:
1. The independence, quality and efficiency of the justice system
Concerns include lack of protection for the independence of the judiciary and prosecutors from political interference, inadequate resources available for the judiciary and governmental reprisals against judges and prosecutors.
Some member states have taken measures to strengthen judicial independence and reduce influence of the executive or legislative bodies on the judiciary. Still, concerns are expressed in respect of some Member States, even if in some cases, these relate to the structure of the Judiciary. The accelerated digitalisation of justice was highlighted as important in delivering quality of justice.
2. Anti-corruption framework
Serious concerns in this area include impunity of high-ranking officials, lack of verification and enforcement of integrity measures, and problems with the complexity of investigating financial and economic crimes.
It is noted that seven Member States recently adopted new anti-corruption strategies or revised existing ones.
3. Media Pluralism and Media Freedom
Main concerns in this area include, attacks on journalists and lopsided distribution of state-funded advertising as well as political pressure on private media outlets.
It was identified that, in some Member States, there are worrying signs of political influence on the media, as well as lack of transparency in respect of media ownership.
4. Other institutional checks and balances
This category is concerned with issues of excessive use of emergency legislation and the shrinking space for the civil society.
It is identified that in some Member States, the Rule of Law is affected by such measures. However, on the positive side, there is evidence of a healthy debate on strengthening safeguards in other Member States by implementing a system of checks and balances.
The Report highlights that a number of Member States are making steps in the right direction by undertaking reforms meant to strengthen judicial independence and are reducing the influence of the executive or legislative power over the judiciary. On the other hand, country specific assessments show a different picture whereby judicial independence is an issue of concern in some Member States.
The effect of the COVID19 crisis further highlights the importance of effective justice systems in all member states. Expected increases in caseloads coupled with inefficiency can result in mistrust for those justice systems. This in turn can result in inadequate justice reforms to the detriment of the rule of law.
The digitalisation of the justice system is highlighted as an important step in the current COVID19 pandemic. The report also reflects relevant emergency measures taken by member states in the context of the pandemic.
Didier Reynders, European Commissioner for justice and consumers, said: “The new rule of law report is the start of an open and regular dialogue with every member state, a way in which we can share good practices and pre-empt challenges before they become entrenched.
“The goal is to instil a real rule of law culture across the European Union, and trigger a genuine debate at national and EU level.”