EU Rule of Law Report Captive on its Tracks

The European Commission is already planning a second rule of law report, although the first brought no further evidence to the already known problems of Hungary or Poland, and only showed the weakness of conceptualization and methodology at this stage. The German presidency made the concession to Hungary and Poland that Courts will have the first say in the event of a sanction. While critics were fast to denounce Merkel to have yielded to the populists, the most elementary legal common sense shows that Courts would have anyway got involved. Is it not better, then, to have them involved sooner rather than later?

Quite a few Parliaments and Governments invited me since then to present my criticism of the report from this Carnegie paper (thank you) and the alternative ways to go about solving the rule of law problem. While I have nothing to add to the criticism and the commission seems unwilling or unable to modify anything in the bureaucratic logic of the report (and the power mechanisms which made it that Wirecard case did not even get a mention) the alternative is the one that I had already suggested. We need to separate the issues, which are luckily correlated. If we want to cut EU funds, we need to use the public procurement policy and its very good monitoring by another part of the Commission (in the EU Single Market PP Scoreboard). Member states who do not reach targets there are the same who infringe on rule of law: Hungary, Poland, Romania, Malta, Czech Republic. That is a technical issue and as such, it is entirely at the disposal of the Commission, which had already done a first excellent step in letting Hungary know that it would not get the funds until it proves it is able to spend the money correctly [1]. For freedom of speech and judicial interference we need to use the other mechanisms- political in essence, as the final and sustainable solution to the EU rule of law problems is to persuade voters not to endorse leaders who are against rule of law. Both on legal and on persuasive grounds, it is better to cut funds for poor governance and corruption than for motives Mr. Orban can say are just matters of different political opinion.

But the EC seems these days, as on the vaccine issue, a train captured by its own tracks and unable to adjust course sensibly. The second round of consultations on the ROL report, thus, is not really a consultation more than the first has been. It is merely an attempt to crowdsource, collecting information, and of course leaving at the absolute discretion of the Commission if to mention Wirecard, BAFIN, and the rest at all.

It is rather clear that the report could hardly help, had the case of some infringement end in Courts, where legal reasoning would instead prevail. The question then is why spend all this money to produce a weak and biased report, when the Commission could instead outsource reports on freedom of the press, corruption (not anticorruption, as the meagre report attempts, as there is no way to separate the two which makes any sense) and judicial independence to those who generally deal with these issues and are both independent and professional? Such reports could be cited by those who work on the legal cases, as we have already seen in the legal cases against Hungary and Poland so far, although, of course, they would not make the bulk of the argument any more than the ROL report would. At least, however, there will be no stringent omissions.

The rule of law report was a concession by Von der Leyen to those who think populism can be fought only by populism, by publishing unsubstantiated figures of social loss due to corruption that no reviewer would ever validate in a normal academic review procedure or by piling up facts which do not amount to evidence, as many are simply irrelevant. The fact that it goes on like nothing happened during last year negotiations and no justified criticism was made by governments and experts who are not on the side of Poland and Hungary is not proof of resilience, but one of incapacity of a bureaucracy to learn and adjust, and the indifference which accompanies too much money one can spend.

[1] EU tells Hungary to change procurement, cites ‘systemic’ fraud | Financial Post


Malta use to lead as the top European country for trust in government, despite being in the bottom with conflict of interest regulations, financial disclosures for officials and party finance, and enjoying  mediocre fiscal transparency. The recent revelations of government favoritism and lack of independence of the judiciary made the score of judicial independence decline. The public integrity issue is used politically without clear signs of the existence of a cross party critical mass in favor of public integrity.