On the 11th of January 2020, judges from 20 European countries marched with their Polish colleagues through Warsaw in a silent protest against repressive new measures aimed at Polish judges. The many EU flags rising above the crowd could be seen as cries for help to Brussels. We cannot defend our independence alone, we need the EU to step in and step it up. But the EU’s current rule of law toolbox has been painfully ineffective to enforce the principle of judicial independence (JI) in Poland. Concerned about the Polish government’s judicial reforms, the Commission has used every tool in the toolbox. But, after two years of unfruitful dialogue under the Rule of Law Framework – ending with launching the Article 7 procedure in 2017 – and four infringement proceedings (and counting) later, the first edition of the new Rule of Law Report in 2020 does not paint a flattering picture of the current state of the Polish judiciary’s independence. This blog post argues that these failures were quite predictable, as the rule of law toolbox fails to put the right tools in the right hands. Notwithstanding the blame rightly put on the EU institutions for failing to make effective use of the available mechanisms, the different tools all have inherent qualities that hinder their effectiveness to enforce the principle of JI upon a Member State (MS) – especially when threats are widespread and deliberate. The new rule of law budget conditionality mechanism can hopefully offer the Commission a more powerful tool to force MS compliance, but doubts remain whether it will be applied effectively.
Post-accession, Bulgaria has proven to be a functioning member of the common market and has enjoyed the benefits of EU access. But while it has reaped success in the field of market integration, it has consistently underperformed in the rule of law domain. Part of the blame falls with domestic institutions and processes, but the rest seems the result of EU enforcement inadequacy. The importance of the rule of law enforcement issue is indisputable – and the recent examples of Poland and Hungary only highlight that window-dressing by governments and EU inaction can be nothing short of problematic. This blog post argues that the existing article 7 TEU and the Commission’s new rule of law enforcement toolkit, are insufficient to address these challenges. As the example of Bulgaria will show, “smaller sticks” such as temporary sanctions, appear essential to making the system more effective.
EU soft law typically serves as an interpretative tool helping with enforcement of EU hard law, especially when hard law provisions are indeterminate or open-textured. The power of soft law making brings with it the risk that an EU institution issues a soft law act going beyond the binding provisions that it is intended to interpret. In such a scenario, the soft law act does not ensure the enforcement of EU hard law, but rather sets new rules, which may be considered as circumventing the legislative process. This is just one of the reasons, why it seems vital to make EU soft law acts subject to judicial review by the CJEU.
Emilie: This month marks the celebration of our 50th blog post and the first anniversary of the Jean Monnet Network on EU Law Enforcement (JMN EULEN). Since the publication of the first blog post 4 years ago, this blog has reached more than 115 thousand visitors from 165 different countries. In addition, over the past year, JMN EULEN has brought academics and practitioners together during several (online) roundtables and conferences. We thank all our readers and contributors, ranging from students and academics to policy makers and practitioners. This milestone feels like a good moment to take stock of the recent developments in the field of EU law enforcement. So, what are the major developments and challenges in the field of EU law enforcement and how to overcome these?
In 2017 the European Commission, in its Communication on ‘EU law: better results through better application,’ stressed that: “[e]ffective enforcement of EU rules – from the fundamental freedoms, food and product safety to air quality to the protection of the single currency – matters to Europeans and affects their daily lives […]. Often, when issues come to the fore […] it is not the lack of EU legislation that is the problem but rather the fact that the EU law is not applied effectively.” In order to increase available enforcement mechanisms to promote effectiveness, the European Commission sought an approach to enabling indirect enforcement via private actors, in legislation on the protection of whistle-blowers, proposed in 2018. By October 2019, the Directive on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law (henceforth referred to as the Directive) was adopted. The Directive is the first EU horizontal piece of legislation on the protection of whistle-blowers.
The reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is one of the major regulatory challenges to the European Union (EU), which has continuously attracted academic attention (Nicolosi, 2019). Less consideration has been given to the dynamics of enforcement of that policy. Yet, this is a crucial issue, as acknowledged by the European Commission , the recent migratory pressure stressed the ‘structural weaknesses and shortcomings in the design and implementation of European asylum and migration policy’. Apart from a ‘protracted implementation deficit,’ EU asylum law has been suffering from a ‘protracted compliance deficit’ (Thym, 2017). This makes the need for a more effective enforcement strategy all the more urgent. This post, therefore, aims to explain whether EU direct enforcement mechanisms can be more effective than traditional forms of enforcement by State authorities.
The fast-evolving security environment in the Euro-Mediterranean region has urged international, regional and state actors to engage in strategic and operational cooperation way beyond the traditional law enforcement areas. Security challenges have entailed the readiness of EU and MENA countries to work together to enhance their citizens’ security by reinforcing law enforcement cooperation through joint capacity-building efforts under the aegis of the Euromed Police projects. The longstanding partnerships, training activities, tools and mechanisms fostered by the Euromed Police throughout its past four project phases have rendered Euromed Police an acknowledged regional actor in the Euro-Mediterranean law enforcement environment. The tangible achievements of the project mainly lie in its unique approach allowing for different levels of involvement by partner countries and flexible geographical scope focusing on the identification of operational needs addressing concrete operational issues raised in the context of serious and organized crime areas.
In recent months, the European Union (EU) has witnessed the rise of an invisible enemy, the COVID-19 virus. Whilst the virus knows no race or colour, it does affect certain communities more than others. As the Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič mentioned, ‘the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the most fragile countries, migrants and the most vulnerable people is likely to be dramatic’. Specifically, the spread of the virus in the five refugee camps in Greece developed under the hotspot approach (Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos), would be a nightmare for an already terrible existing situation. As Amnesty International rightly pointed out, in this situation, ‘the risk for refugees on Greek islands are multiplying by the hour’. The intention of this blogpost is twofold. It is first meant to shed light on the situation in these hotspots facilities before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, and second to analyse the reactions of the Commission and the European Parliament to this extraordinary scenario.
People regularly complain about too many rules and too little enforcement, both with respect to the European Union and the Member State governments. One often finds both these criticisms in a political context, and rightly so. After all, everyone can quickly think of a rule, but to have others abide by it is another matter altogether. Promulgating a norm too easily implies its enforcement, and politicians are exactly the ones who should be aware of that.
As entries in this blog reveal (Townley; Linden), debates over the enforcement of EU economic law, are often framed in terms of the desirable level of diversity or uniformity to be achieved. Both instincts, meaning to call for more uniformity and more diversity, seem justified.