Communicating fundamental rights and the rule of law - Related Opinions
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Combating all forms of discrimination is one of the aims of the EU, as enshrined in the Treaties. Yet, Member States have never agreed on the Directive proposed by the European Commission in 2008, which would have extended the existing EU protection against discrimination to all policy areas. Such a situation has created an "artificial hierarchy of protected grounds" whereby areas such as sex, and racial or ethnic origin, enjoy wider protection than other grounds like religion or belief, age, disability and sexual orientation. This Own-Initiative Opinion seeks to address this situation, by recalling the need to adopt a comprehensive directive, but by proposing complementary actions notably based on the recognition of the general principle of equality.
Through this Opinion, the EESC supports the proposal by the European Commission to extend the list of EU crimes to all forms of hate crime and hate speech. It considers that the criteria set out in Article 83(1) of the TFEU for such an extension (significant developments in the area, a cross-border dimension, the need to act on a common basis) are met. The EESC therefore encourages the Council to adopt the proposed Decision in order to allow the European Commission to set minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and penalties in this area of crime.
The "Reinforcing democracy and integrity of elections" package was issued by the European Commission in November 2021. The EESC was asked to address two of the three legislative components of the package: the revision of the Regulation on the statute and funding of European political parties and European political foundations, and a proposal for a Regulation transparency and targeting of political advertising. In this Opinion, the EESC welcomes the aims and motivation of the package but also suggests specific recommendations to make the text of the Regulations more ambitious. One of the main objectives of the Opinion is to promote conscious political participation by citizens and a role for civil society in ensuring transparent, accessible and honest political activities.
Through this Own-Initiative Opinion proposed by its Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law Group, the EESC expresses its deep concern regarding the way COVID-19 has impacted the life, safety, welfare and dignity of all of the people living in the EU and worldwide. The EESC recalls that the EU is based on common European values which are non-negotiable under any circumstances. Therefore, special measures to address the COVID-19 crisis should remain exceptional and time-limited and should not go against the rule of law or endanger democracy, the separation of powers and the fundamental rights of European inhabitants. The EESC insists on the importance of checks and balances like parliaments, independent judiciaries, and civil society in ensuring balances responses. It calls for an inclusive recovery process leaving no one behind and fostering participation, democracy and the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights.
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.
In this opinion, the EESC recalls that media freedom, including the safety and security of journalists, and media pluralism are cornerstones of liberal democracy. It therefore notes with regrets that the developments within the EU are alarming and calls for urgent steps by Member States and the EU, including through the use of the new general regime of budget conditionality. The EESC welcomes the broad range of reports and initiatives by the European Parliament and the Commission, including the Commission's plan for a "European Media Freedom Act". It also supports measures to increase the safety of journalists and underlines the necessity of a legal ban on Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). The EESC supports the idea of a European Agency to bolster media skills of EU citizens through educational programmes. It also proposes the creation of a fully independent European public service broadcaster.
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).
Through this opinion, requested by the German Presidency of the Council, the EESC recognises the essential role of smoothly functioning public services in defending core EU values. The opinion highlights their particular role in times of crisis, like COVID-19, which calls for the maximum human and financial support. The EESC proposes common European principles to support the role of public services in defence of democracy. They include the principles of neutrality, legality, proportionality, equal treatment and transparency; the right to good administration; independent oversight; the protection of public services staff against decisions breaching the rule of law; accessibility; interoperability; and the respect of the rule of law including when receiving EU funds.
EESRK nuomonė: Principles for public services (i.e. public services for citizens, public administration) that contribute directly to the stability of the free democratic basic order (democracy and the rule of law) in EU countries (Exploratory opinion at the reques
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