ORIGINAL PUBLISHED IN THE EP THINK TANK SITE
by Eva-Maria Alexandrova POPTCHEVA
The European Union is founded on values common to all Member States. These are supposed to ensure a level of homogeneity among Member States, while respecting their national identities, so facilitating the development of a European identity and their integration. Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union provides mechanisms to enforce EU values, based on a political decision by the Council with the participation of the Commission and Parliament. Such decisions are exempt from judicial review.
The current mechanism is said to be unusable due to the high thresholds needed to adopt a decision in the Council, as well as Member States’ political unwillingness to use it. Various new approaches have been proposed by academics and by political actors, from a new independent monitoring body — the ‘Copenhagen Commission’, through extending the mandate of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), to introducing the possibility for the EU to suspend national measures suspected of infringing EU law.
The European Parliament launched the idea of a ‘European fundamental rights policy cycle’ with the cooperation of EU institutions, Member States and the FRA, as a ‘new Copenhagen mechanism’ to monitor the situation in Member States. This mechanism would incorporate an early-warning system, with ‘formal notices’ to Member States where a breach in the rule of law appears likely, before formal proceedings under Article 7, and a ‘freezing procedure’ for national measures infringing upon EU values.
In 2014, the Commission announced ‘A new EU framework to strengthen the Rule of Law’, with a structured dialogue between the Commission and the Member State concerned and Commission recommendations and follow-up. On an initiative of the Italian Presidency, the Council decided in December 2014 to hold an annual dialogue, in the General Affairs Council, on the ‘rule of law’ in Member States.
A Union of values
EU values and national identity
The EU ‘values’ were enshrined in the Treaties only with the Treaty of Lisbon, replacing the previous, less extensive ‘principles’. However, it has been clear from the very beginnings of the Communities that, to succeed, the European integration process needs a common basis of values to secure a degree of homogeneity amongst the Member States.1 The EU values are supposed to be the basis for a common European ‘way of life’, facilitating integration towards a political, not just a ‘market’, Union. They support the development of a European identity, while ensuring the legitimacy of the EU as founded on democratic values. However, when it comes to detailed definitions of each of the values, there are few accepted unreservedly.
The EU values enjoy two-fold protection. First, since the 1993 Copenhagen European Council, they form part of the accession criteria for candidates for EU membership (Article 49(1) TEU). Second, Member States must, following their accession, observe and promote the EU values. Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) establishes a procedure to sanction a Member State which does not uphold the values, through the suspension of membership rights. Moreover, the Union exports its values outside its territory, with the EU values underlying the international relations of the EU (Articles 21, 3(5), and 8 TEU).
On the other side of the coin are the national constitutional identities of Member States. According to Article 4(2) TEU, the Union must respect Member States’ national identities. This provision sets out a vision of a Union founded on values common to all Member States but which preserves the diversity of Member States’ political and organisational systems. This so called ‘constitutional individuality’ of the Member States can be reflected inter alia in state-organisational, cultural, including language, and historical heritage aspects.2 Hence, the common EU values represent limits to the diversity of Member States, reflected in their constitutional identities.
Some examples Continue reading