The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) calls on the EU and Member States to work on better communicating fundamental rights and the rule of law towards the general population. In its opinion, the EESC suggests focusing on fairness and justice and giving a voice to those who experience human rights and human rights violations first hand.
The rule of law and fundamental rights can be perceived by some as overly abstract, distant, jargonistic and legalistic concepts. The Committee believes that this is a real danger which the EU needs to address. This is why the EESC adopted an own-initiative opinion on Communicating fundamental rights and the rule of law at its December plenary session.
The EESC rapporteur for the opinion, Cristian Pîrvulescu, explained that
Lack of clear communication and education at European and national levels on these principles benefits the enemies of democracy. Therefore, we call for more support for civil society awareness-raising activities and stronger school curricula in the area of fundamental rights and the rule of law.
Civil society plays a key role in protecting our democracy from authoritarianism. The Committee calls on the social partners, professional organisations and grassroots organisations to work together to increase people's understanding of fundamental rights and the rule of law as a tangible reality for all individuals in the EU. The EESC also urges Member States to mainstream fundamental rights and the rule of law at all levels of education. Training and education on civic matters must be mandatory, comprehensible and accessible to all.
Co-rapporteur José Antonio Moreno Díaz stressed that
Individuals cannot defend their fundamental rights and the rule of law if they do not know what they actually mean, above and beyond vague principles. EU actors, institutions, Member States, but also civil society in general can make a difference by translating abstract concepts into meaningful and practical issues, thereby creating a shared European culture of fundamental rights and the rule of law. Defending the welfare state and implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights are also key aspects of the human face of fundamental rights.
The EU has a legal duty to uphold the rule of law and safeguard fundamental rights. The EESC opinion argues that human rights protection and the rule of law are not possible in the absence of the welfare state. The two are interconnected: when the welfare state no longer works, society may view the rule of law as an empty concept. This link is also recognised in the European Pillar of Social Rights, an essential policy tool for building a more inclusive Union.
The Committee urges all EU institutions to demonstrate zero tolerance for rule of law breaches in EU Member States. In doing so, the EU should continue to rely on the definition of the rule of law produced by the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission), which offers a clear description of the key principles covered by the rule of law.
The latest Rule of Law Report from the European Commission shows progress in the EU compared to previous years and for the first time gives country-specific recommendations on justice, corruption, media, and checks and balances. The EESC believes that advancing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms should remain clear priorities for the EU. It appreciates that this will be one of the key objectives of the incoming Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU.