Rule of Law Report fair to all EU member states, says Commissioner Jourová after criticism from Poland and Hungary

Věra Jourová

The European Commission published its second annual report on the rule of law among EU member states this week, with particular criticism levelled at Hungary and Poland. Government officials from both states lashed out against the report, which they said was commissioned in bad faith. Czech lawyer Věra Jourová, the European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency, says it is based on a fair approach to all member states.

The European Commission’s Rule of Law Report assesses developments in every EU member state regarding their judicial systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media freedom and pluralism, and general government checks and balances.

While the EC report praised developments in some states such as Malta, it also levelled criticism at some members of the Visegrad Four group – which apart from Hungary and Poland, includes the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The Czech Republic came out with a pat on the back as far as its judicial reforms are concerned, but the report also highlighted that legislation tied to the government’s anti-corruption strategy is not making much progress.

Hungary and Poland fared worse, with strong criticism levelled at the former for how it handles corruption and the media, and for the latter for its judicial reforms, which, the report says threaten judges’ independence.

European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová, whose role includes upholding the rule of law across the union, presented the report on Tuesday. Speaking to Czech Radio, she explained the main developments identified across the EU since the previous report was published.

Photo: Tingey Injury Law Firm,  Unsplash

“We tried to include a new aspect, namely, how the rule of law was upheld during the coronavirus pandemic. In other words, to see if some governments used the pandemic as a signal to massively increase their powers without handing them back to other institutions, such as their parliaments. This did not happen. I also think that the judicial systems worked well over all and all states were roughly on the same level in this regard.

“However, when it comes to the question of justice system reform, we see problems in Poland. Meanwhile, in Hungary, we see restrictions on the plurality of the media taking place.”

Hungary’s Justice Minister Judit Varga has since struck back. Referring to the report as “blackmail”, she said that it is part of a campaign in which the rule of law is not a principle, but “a tool of extortion”.

However, according to Věra Jourová, the Rule of Law report is based firmly within the rules set out by the Treaty of the European Union and approaches all member states equally.

“We produced this report after long-term criticism from the Hungarian and Polish sides, which said that we are only focusing on them and not on other member states. This report uses the same methodology for all EU member states and we use the same, publically available sources.

“I worked hard on making sure that this report is based on a fair approach to individual member states. Hungary’s criticism could therefore also be levelled at themselves, since they called so strongly for a report that would look at the whole of Europe.”

Commissioner Jourová told Czech Radio that the Rule of Law report carries a lot of weight, but is descriptive and does not propose any recommendations or sanctions. However, it has come out at a time when EU officials seem more prepared to cut funding to perceived EU troublemakers.