The Other Democratic Deficit. A Toolbox for the EU to Safeguard Democracy in Member States
This publication makes a number of concrete suggestions on how the EU can safeguard and promote democracy in its member states. Some national governments have undermined the EU’s fundamental values, as laid out in Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union, by strengthening their executive power and weakening the separation of powers. In other member states, corruption is rampant and media freedom under pressure. Populists are on the rise across Europe, sometimes participating in government. To date the EU has failed to take effective steps against violations of democratic standards in individual member states.To lay a solid groundwork for EU action, this paper suggests the establishment of a monitoring mechanism to regularly assess compliance with democratic standards and the rule of law in EU member states. To avoid excessive reporting burdens, such a mechanism should be limited in scope and focus only on issues that are identified as contentious through a dialogue with governments, opposition parties, public institutions, civil society and international organisations. Monitoring could be carried out by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe or, if that is not possible, by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency or a Panel of Experts established for this purpose. The findings should be discussed at both national and EU level, with the European Parliament adopting a resolution and the Council discussing the monitoring report as part of the annual rule of law dialogue.In the context of the discussions about the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) after 2020 it was suggested that the EU’s financial leverage be used and access to EU funds linked to respect for European values. However, to avoid discriminating against net recipients of EU structural and investment funds, EU mainstream programmes should also be made conditional. The concept could be implemented by changing the relevant secondary law: either the regulation on the respective funds has to be amended or the Council regulation laying down the next MFF should incorporate clear conditions.This paper also evaluates possibilities concerning judicial enforcement. It argues that serious violations of the EU’s fundamental values not only have an impact on the respective member state’s domestic sphere, but necessarily affect that member state’s capacity to comply with EU law and thereby threaten the functioning of the EU legal order as a whole. In such cases, it would be possible and desirable for the European Commission to bring an infringement procedure against the member state in question. The availability of infringement procedures in case of systemic breaches of fundamental rights would provide the Commission with important legal leverage vis-à-vis member states challenging the rule of law. Moreover, having a judicial mechanism would help depoliticize the debate.Apart from sanctions, this publication also explores how the EU can promote democracy in its member states by supporting NGOs that promote and protect democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. Because funding – including EU funding – for NGOs working on European values is insufficient, the EU should create a new, adequately resourced fund (referred to as a »European Values Instrument« or »EVI«). The EVI should support advocacy, monitoring of member state compliance with European and international standards, litigation, public education, support for independent and investigative journalism and capacity building. Moreover, the European Commission should appoint a Special Representative on Civil Society to receive and react to information concerning restrictions on NGOs.Across the EU, media pluralism is under threat. This paper makes suggestions on how to tackle the problem of vested political influence and media concentration. The European Commission should propose minimum common rules in areas of the internal market that affect media freedom and pluralism. Provisions on transparency of state funding and advertising in the media, media ownership, concentration and defamation should be harmonized across the EU. To counter disinformation, online platforms and social media companies should have to report to the European Parliament on the measures adopted and implemented to halt the spread of »fake news«. Moreover, the European Commission should fund training projects on digital investigative journalism aimed at non-professional journalists, activists and bloggers.Last but not least, European political parties should be held accountable. The European institutions have no competence to regulate or sanction national parties, but can do so indirectly by sanctioning European political parties (EuPPs). However, more resources are necessary. The newly created Authority for European political parties and European political foundations should have a dedicated team to control the EuPPs’ conduct and to collect evidence in case of breaches of the EU’s fundamental values. The European parties themselves can sanction their member parties, even exclude them, but these measures are rarely used and have little impact. The influence of EuPPs on their member parties would grow if they were able to compete for mandates with transnational lists and distribute political power. The effect of sanctions could be increased by better linking EuPPs with their affiliated political groups in the European Parliament. If suspension from a EuPP also meant suspension from the affiliated political group, the leverage of EuPPs would be considerably higher, as membership of one of the large political groups is essential for access both to resources and to important functions and legislative roles. Moreover, EuPPs
should formalize the criteria for sanctions and make decision-making more objective and independent from political considerations. The nomination of standing rapporteurs could render decisions less arbitrary and provide necessary first-hand information.