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EU must empower its regions and cities to defend fundamental rights and the rule of law  

Eight weeks before the European elections, local and regional leaders have warned that growing populism is a threat to the rule of law and fundamental rights in the EU. They argued that the EU must further empower regions and cities who are on the frontline tackling racism, hate speech and discrimination whilst fostering social cohesion. This was the main message during a debate with Koen Lenaerts, President of the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Commission's First Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, Domenica Ghidei Biidu, Vice-Chair of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance of the Council of Europe and Michael O'Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights today.

Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President of the European Committee of the Regions, said "Cities and regions, because of their proximity to citizens, play a crucial role in the promotion and respect of European values. They are on the front line when it comes to protecting vulnerable groups by taking action in areas such as education, freedom of association and expression, and social policies. Ahead of the European elections, our assembly of local and regional governments wants to recall that the respect of fundamental rights is not only a principle inscribed in our treaties and charters. It is vital to preserve our European democracy by ensuring the participation, representation and protection of all citizens."

Koen Lenaerts, President of the Court of Justice of the European Union said: "The European Union is founded on the values of respect for fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law, which give legitimacy to the European project .The rule of law is devoid of substance without democracy and fundamental rights. The Charter of Fundamental Rights stands at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of EU norms. Any national measure that is incompatible with the Charter must be set aside."

European Commission First Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, said: "Fundamental rights would remain a reality on paper only if their protection was not ensured by independent courts. The rule of law is not only of importance at the national level. It is vital at all levels of government, including at the local and regional levels. Sadly, we have seen that rule of law concerns have multiplied across the Union over the past years. These developments have only made the Commission more convinced of the importance of using all the instruments that we have to uphold EU values."

On April 3, the European Commission adopted a communication on "Further strengthening the Rule of Law within the Union".

Note to editors
You can watch the full debate here

Read here the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

Contact: David Crous | david.crous@cor.europa.eu