Further strengthening the Rule of Law within the Union. State of play and possible next steps (Communication) - Related Opinions
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In 2018, the EESC adopted an Opinion on "The Union's budget and the rule of law" (SOC/598) in which it supported the principle of corrective measures regarding Member States that commit serious violations of the rule of law in Europe. In the present Own-Initiative Opinion, the EESC insists on the actual implementation of Regulation (EU) 2020/2092 "on a general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget". The EESC demands the imposition of swift and comprehensive sanctions for breaches of the rule of law which put the Union's budget at risk. It also recalls the importance for Member States to integrate measures to strengthen the rule of law in their recovery programmes. The EESC also supports a stronger role for the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO), European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), and civil society in the area.
Recent years have been marked by a persistent global decline in democratic values and the rule of law. While many differences remain and have to be acknowledged, North America has unquestionably been our closest historical ally in championing democracy and its values across the world. The arrival of the new administration in the US has provided a new momentum and a unique opportunity to build the new transatlantic partnership and jointly manage not only the internal, but also global challenges, especially with regard to powers which do not share the same values, such as China or Russia. President Biden's initiative to organise a Summit for Democracy at a time when autocracies are on the offensive is only the first step in building a strong international democratic alliance.
This opinion is the EESC's contribution to the implementation of the European Democracy Action Plan (EDAP) published by the European Commission in December 2020. The EESC welcomes the document, which it views as both positive and necessary, and recommends that the European Commission add to it a specific pillar for the involvement of civil society and social partners and the promotion of labour democracy. Indeed, the EESC regrets that the EDAP has failed to address the important role of the social contract, social dialogue and collective bargaining in reducing inequalities and encouraging Europeans to embrace democratic ideals. The EESC also believes that greater emphasis should be placed on civil dialogue, and it therefore reiterates its call for the creation of an annual Civil Society Forum on Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law (SOC/627).
The EESC welcomes the Communication as an essential and effective step to enable the digitalisation of justice. It is crucial to support Member States at national level in making this change by providing them not only with the necessary funding, but also with tools. With this support, the digitalisation of justice can be expanded at European level to create mechanisms facilitating closer cross-border cooperation between judicial authorities.
The EESC welcomes the proposed regulatory initiative, which will have an indirect positive impact as it simplifies and speeds up cross-border judicial procedures and cooperation, and will also contribute to improving the functioning of the single market. It is worth noting that e-CODEX is not limited to e-justice. In anticipation of the future, the EESC recommends including a provision to open up the possibility of other uses by other public administrations, including for example the transfer of e-health records.
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