Local and regional leaders from across the European Union have thrown their support behind proposals from the European Commission and the European Parliament designed to strengthen the rule of law, including the possibility of sanctioning states for "serious and systemic" breaches. The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) also urged EU institutions to promote a culture of respect for the rule of law by involving local communities more, including public administrations and the "networks of" ombudsmen working at the local and regional level.
The recommendations, which were adopted on 12 February at the first plenary of the Committee's new five-year mandate, emphasised the need for a wider, deeper process of monitoring, backed by adequate resources. The result should be an objective and transparent assessment – based on, for instance, the Rule-of-Law Checklist developed by Europe's top human-rights watchdog, the Council of Europe – that draws on a year-round series of meetings at regional and national level. The process would culminate in an annual conference in a city particularly committed to good governance. The CoR's opinion specifically highlights the value of consulting judicial networks and local legal communities, and of increasing financial support for civil society and independent media, especially at the local level.
The opinion was presented by Christophe Rouillon, President of the Party of European Socialists Group and Mayor of Coulaines (France). He said: "Rule of law is not only one of the fundamental common values of the European Union, but it is an existential condition for its functioning. Civil society and local and regional authorities have an important role to play in strengthening the rule of law. We believe that sanctions are necessary for those violating the rule of law, but for the perpetrators, not the victims. This Committee has long pressed the case for the regions and cities of Europe not to be sanctioned for breaches of the rule of law by national governments. With this opinion, we have set out ways in which deeper cooperation with local communities – their civil society, their legal defenders, and their public administrations – can contribute to the defence and promotion of a culture of law."
Mr Rouillon continued: "Our recommendations are significant for two reasons. First, this opinion shows that local and regional politicians from across Europe support efforts to buttress the rule of law. Second, these recommendations provide specific ideas for action at the local and regional level. Reinforcing the rule of law is not just a matter of principle; it is also a matter of value for money. We believe that channelling money through systems with weak government – and, in some cases, systematic undermining of the rule of law – is counter-productive and risks undermining the trust between Europeans on which the integration project is built. Deeper, more thorough monitoring by the EU would be good for citizens, local democracy, and local economies."
The report was initiated and drafted by Franco Iacop (IT/PES), leader of the regional assembly of Friuli Venezia Giulia. Mr Rouillon presented the report because Mr Iacop lost his mandate to the CoR in December.
The recommendations reflect a conviction that the reality of governance in the European Union – which involves European, national, regional and local politicians and public administrations – requires that monitoring of the rule of law should not be restricted to the national level. Following the same logic, the CoR called for the EU – as a legal entity – to be subject to monitoring itself, arguing for the EU to re-start the process of joining the European Court of Human Rights.
Ideas that the CoR would like explored include ways to "tap [the] potential" of the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency in the monitoring system. The CoR also suggested that a pilot project involving a group of interested cities and regions could help finesse criteria for measuring the rule of law.
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