The EU urgently needs mediators to uphold the rule of law

1 October 2017

The EU urgently needs mediators to uphold the rule of law

The EU advocates democracy, but has so far completely failed to meet recent challenges in Hungary, Poland and now of course Spain. Up to now the EU has always followed a formal course, taking action via delegations or in the Spanish case through silence, because silence too is a political statement. Why doesn’t the EU work via mediators, people who are authoritative when it comes to the law who can meet with the parties involved? We need to get away from the kind of thinking about power that leads to the idea that Brussels is a power unto itself, which is why I’m looking not to the European Commission but to the heads of member state governments. If there’s a problem between friends, you need a mediator. That’s what they need to do now: a job for Dutch PM Mark Rutte and his colleagues in the European Council.

In its relations with non-member states the EU works with a range of representatives such as the Special Representative for Human Rights and the Special Envoy for the promotion of the freedom of religion or belief. These people travel the world in order to promote the observance of human rights. For problems within the EU all we have is Dutch European Commissioner Frans Timmermans. With a drumroll he is calling Hungary and Poland to order, though without much success. When it comes to Spain the Commission has nothing to say. The pressure from centre-right Commissioners is apparently so great that in this case recognition prevails that you don’t interfere with the internal affairs of a member state. Although last week, together with the Greens, I proposed a debate on the situation in Spain to be held during this week’s plenary session in Strasbourg, all of the major political groups with the exception of the Conservatives responded by saying that they had no interest in having such a discussion. That goes for the Liberals too, who now under their leader Guy Verhofstadt have suddenly decided that they do after all have an interest in these developments.

But perhaps we should also not look so much to the Commission and the EP, as this would quickly raise the legal question of who is responsible for what. That there are problems in at least three member states is clear. That these problems concern the functioning of a constitutional state is also clear. That means that the matter is of sufficient importance to involve the heads of government. Not to wag their fingers at Poland and Hungary and tell them what they have to do, but still less should they be staying silent when it comes to the events in Spain. Mediation is needed in each of these countries: in Poland and Hungary between the government and the forces in society which are fighting for democracy and the rule of law, and in Spain between the Madrid government and the Catalans. It’s a shame that none of the heads of government meeting last week in Estonia had the courage to propose this. Because it would be better that they do something than that we depend on the Commission or the EP.

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