Remarks by Vice-President Věra Jourová at the press conference on Rule of Law Report 2021

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Today, we started our College meeting with a minute of silence in memory of the lives lost in recent days due to the devastating floods that have hit several Member States, including Belgium, our host country.

I would like to reiterate on behalf of all my colleagues, our condolences. There are no words to describe the suffering of those who have lost loved ones. Our thoughts are with those who have been affected in one way or another.

Then, the College adopted today the report on the situation of the Rule of Law in the EU.

Commissioner Reynders and I will present the reports to you shortly.

In addition, the College adopted an ambitious legislative package to address money-laundering.

This  file will be presented to you by Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis and Commissioner McGuinness later today.

We also adopted a recommendation to the Council to authorise the opening of negotiations for an agreement between the EU and the UK, in respect of Gibraltar.

As you might remember, Gibraltar is not covered by the Trade and Cooperation Agreement concluded between the EU and the UK.

In the recommendation, we ask to nominate the Commission as negotiator on behalf of the Union.

The College also took todays some HR decisions.

Amongst them, I’m happy to announce that Myriam Ferran has been appointed as Deputy Director-General for international Partnerships (DG INTPA). Ms Ferran is a French national and she is currently a Director in DG NEAR.

We have also decided to transfer Ms Joanna Drake from the position Deputy Director-General for Environment (DG ENVI) to the same position in DG Research and Innovation, in charge of Implementation, Impact and Sustainable Investment Strategies.

In turn, Mr Patrick Child, who currently holds that position, will take over Ms Drake’s position as Deputy Director-General in DG ENVI.

Before we come to the rule of law report, let me inform you about another decision of the College today regarding the rule of law, more specifically regarding Poland: the European Commission decided today to empower the Commissioner Reynders, in his role as Commissioner for Justice to adopt measures to induce the Republic of Poland to comply with an order and a judgment of the Court of Justice.

We have sent a letter on this matter.

We have asked Poland to confirm to the Commission that it will fully comply with the order of the Court of 14 July on the Disciplinary Chamber.

Poland needs to inform us about the measures foreseen to that effect by 16 August, as requested by the Court. Failing that, the Commission will request the European Court of Justice to impose a penalty payment on Poland.

Equally, if Poland does not confirm that it will take all the necessary measures to fully comply with the judgment of 15 July regarding the Disciplinary Chamber, the Commission will launch an infringement procedure under Art. 260 (2), meaning that also in this case we will ask for financial sanctions, if Poland does not remedy the situation by 16 August.

Let me repeat what we have said many times: EU law has primacy over national law. All decisions by the European Court of Justice, including orders for interim measures, are binding on all Member States’ authorities and national courts.

The rights of EU citizens and businesses must be protected in the same way across all Member States. There can be no compromise on this. Therefore the Commission has taken swift and clear decisions on this matter today.

Commissioner Reynders can provide you with more details.

Under AOB, Commissioner Breton presented to us the Commission’s reply to a resolution by the European Parliament in which it asks the Commission to undertake an impact assessment and bring forward legislation to enable the swift removal of illegal online transmissions of sports events.

This is in line with our commitment to discuss such Parliament initiatives in the College.

We want to decide in 2022 what type of action can ba taken, following the completion of the impact assessment and in view of the negotiations for the Digital Services Act.

Let me turn to presenting the second edition of the rule of law report. Like its first edition, also this year’s report presents the most comprehensive snapshot of the rule of law situation across the EU, covering all EU Member States, focusing on developments in the last 12 months. .

The annual report is a central tool in the EU’s kit designed to ensure the respect of rule of law. We have jointly agreed a range of measures at our disposal to promote, prevent and respond to rule of law issues in our Member States.

These measures range from monitoring rule of law developments to addressing EU law breaches through our infringement system, or resorting to the Article 7 procedure to address risks of serious breaches of our common values.

To address rule of law abuses against the financial interests of the EU, we have the new budgetary Conditionality Regulation at our disposal.

There is no doubt that we need to step up our actions to uphold the rule of law.

In the very recent years, we have witnessed democracies all over the world experience unprecedented attempts at attacking their institutions and rules-based systems.

The European Union and the Member States in no way are immune to similar forces that seek to challenge the very foundations of democratic countries.

Democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights are the foundations on which everything else is based in our Union: our rights, the freedom of the press or the independence of the judiciary. The treaty establishing the EU is clear about this. We also have clear jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

The rule of law report is first and foremost a preventive mechanism that fosters dialogue and mutual trust.   

So, let me guide you through the second edition of the rule of law report.

First, on process, we applied the same methodology and the same inclusive process. This predictability has paid off and increased the solidity and coherence of the exercise.

Second, on substance, as was the case with our first one, also the second edition focuses on the four key pillars of a broad concept of rule of law:

  • Justice systems
  • Anti-corruption frameworks,
  • Media freedom and pluralism
  • And institutional issues related to checks and balances.

In addition, we looked at how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected the national systems of checks and balances: the prolonged pandemic has been a stress test also to the rule of law.

The report shows the resilience of the national systems of checks and balances.

To help our democratic oversights be better prepared for similar crises in the future, the report provides a good basis for reflection.

Also the Rule of Law Report helps to raise awareness of the seriousness of these issues among Member States. I think many countries see that if fundamental justice reforms raise many controversies, it is important to have a proper debate and consultation internally with the European Commission but also with the Venice Commission. It is also important that after each Rule of Law Report the debate at the Council level is continuing.

The second chapter which I wanted to mention here regarding the substance is the situation of media and the safety of journalists.

Many Member States reported about increased harassment, threats and violence against journalists, especially women journalists, and media as such.

The tragic murder of Dutch journalist Peter R. de Vries is the latest of a series of worrying attacks on European journalists in recent years. On top of that, we have fresh media reports alleging that some journalists in the EU were subject to surveillance. This is unacceptable.

Independent media is elemental to the functioning of any democracy. This is why media freedom and pluralism is one of the four pillars of the report.

Journalists must be able to do their work and ask questions without fear or favour. An attack on a journalist is an attack on freedom of press and on democracy.

The findings of this year’s rule of law report support us in our work as we are preparing a recommendation to all Member States on the safety of journalists, we work on measures to fight abusive litigation against journalists and rights defenders and we are working on designing the Media Freedom Act with Thierry Breton.

Finally, the Rule of Law Report is not an end in itself. It is a part of continues dialogue. Dialogue between the Commission and the Member States, including National Parliaments. Like last year, together with Commissioner Reynders we will discuss the respective Rule of Law Reports in the National Parliaments of Member States. This has proven a very useful exercise last year, and it triggered further debate in the countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is better to prevent than to repair. The report we are presenting today will help us to do so.  It is a result of an inclusive process conducted in close cooperation with the Member States. Didier will elaborate more on this.

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