Rule of Law in the EU – A core value in crisis?
Crisis Talk on 5 February 2020
Strengthening the rule of law is a permanent task for democratic communities. The "culture of the rule of law" called for by the European Commission in 2019 is therefore not yet evidence of a crisis of this EU core value. It is rather a reaction to new challenges, as Nicole Deitelhoff (spokeswoman of the Leibniz Research Alliance "Crises of a Globalised World") impressively described in her welcome address to this 14th Crisis Talk, using the example of the fight against political extremism or the protection of fundamental rights on the Internet.
However, these challenges do not yet constitute a crisis. According to Deitelhoff, developments in individual member states are currently particularly crisis-ridden for the rule of law. Mark Weinmeister (Hessian Secretary of State for European Affairs) made a similar point in his welcoming speech, in which he emphasised the fundamental and indisputable character of the rule of law in the EU. But also the irritation about the fact that this basic consensus is currently being questioned by individuals and must be addressed.
Armin von Bogdandy (Director of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg) became even clearer as a source of inspiration afterwards. According to von Bogdandy, the developments in Hungary and Poland fundamentally challenged the EU. It was nothing less than a "constitutional moment" - a reference to the American constitutional lawyer and legal theorist Bruce Ackermann - in which the EU is called upon to redefine its self-image: Either it defends its previous liberal-democratic identity and opposes the developments in Hungary and Poland accordingly, or it abandons this identity. It is thus precisely this identity determination in which the crisis of the EU rule of law intensifies in terms of time and content.
In the discussion, prudently moderated by Rebecca C. Schmidt (Research Alliance on Normative Orders), Tanja Fajon (Member of the European Parliament) emphasized that a procedure according to Art. 7 (EU Treaty) alone is not suitable to solve the current crisis. The problem goes much deeper than that, as there is no awareness among the Hungarian and Polish population that a basic consensus has been violated. One of the first objectives must therefore be to ensure that the countermeasures do not further deepen the gap between the population and the EU. Armin von Bogdandy, as a legal scholar, stressed that this was a crisis that could not be solved by scientific advice and legal instruments. It is a political crisis, the solution of which requires above all patience, respect for "red lines" that must not be crossed, and EU cohesion. After all, he said, for example, Brexit had also managed to navigate through the crisis.
The 14th Crisis Talk, which was attended by almost 200 interested listeners, thus ended on what was ultimately a rather optimistic note. Even though the organisers - the Representation of the State of Hesse to the EU, the Leibniz Research Alliance "Crises of a Globalised World", the European Office of the Leibniz Association and the Research Alliance "Normative Orders" - had broadened the topic in the invitation, the talk met the expectations of those present, especially by focusing on the current crisis, which was documented not least by the interested questions from the audience.