Just over a year ago, Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Vice-President Viviane Reding came forward with rather ambitious ideas to create a new “Rule-of-Law Mechanism” that would confer to the European Commission new powers to investigate alleged violations of the rule of law by Member States, irrespective of whether those alleged violations fall inside or outside the remit of the EU’s competences.
Mrs. Reding’s proposals, made at a conference hosted by the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies on 4 October 2013, included inter alia the elimination of Article 51 of the EU Fundamental Rights Charter (which currently limits the scope of that Charter to the EU’s own policies and to Member State’s measures implementing those policies) and the creation of a new competence for the EU institutions, in particular the Commission and the Court of Justice, to investigate and sanction any Member State that allegedly acts in contradiction to (rather vaguely defined) “European values”.
The proposal immediately raised concern and distrust, given that on several occasions Mrs. Reding (who – rather unsuitably for a Commissioner responsible for Justice – actually is not a trained lawyer) had acted and spoken in a way that could give the impression that what she meant by “European values” were in fact her own personal policy agenda.
In the meantime, we have a new Commission with a new Commissioner for Justice, Mrs. Věra Jourová (who, to distinguish herself from her predecessor, actually holds a Master’s degree in Law). But what became of the ambitious Barroso/Reding proposal to turn the EU into an all-competent and omnipotent judicial institution?
As it appears, the subject was discussed at the General Affairs Council of 16 December 2014. But the press release published after the meeting clearly indicates that Member States have no desire for Mrs. Reding’s proposals to become reality. Instead, what they have agreed upon is “a dialogue among all Member States within the Council to promote and safeguard the rule of law in the framework of the Treaties”, which “will be based on the principles of objectivity, non-discrimination and equal treatment of all Member States”. They agree that “this dialogue will be conducted on a non-partisan and evidence-based approach” and “without prejudice to the principle of conferred competences”.
This rather looks like a solemn funeral for the Reding proposal.