Portugal’s minister of foreign affairs reaffirmed on Monday the intention of the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU to move forward with the proceedings against Poland and Hungary for suspected violations of European values.
Stressing that “the rule of law is one of the fundamental themes of the programme of the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the European Union” [EU], Augusto Santos Silva gave assurances that Portugal will push ahead with proceedings underway against Poland and Hungary for suspected violations of EU values.
“We have followed up on the joint work, which involved the in-depth analysis of the second series of five member states according to their respective rule of law situations.”
The General Affairs Council made this assessment last April, and we will also move forward with the processes that are underway under Article 7″, Santos Silva said, at the opening of the high-level conference on “The Rule of Law in Europe”, organised by the Portuguese presidency and taking place in Coimbra.
Enshrined in the EU Treaty, Article 7 provides for preventive measures for “a clear risk of a serious breach of the values of the EU” and sanctions in cases of “serious and persistent breaches” of those values, a suspicion that was raised over Poland in 2017and Hungary in 2018.
The rule of law is also a major theme of the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU in other formations, the minister added, pointing to the Justice Council, which has been working on the “application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights”, and the Social Affairs Council, focused on “inclusion strategies”, and action plans to “combat discrimination, racism, anti-Semitism, hate speech”, he pointed out.
This is, therefore, “a theme which cuts across the different formations of the Council of the EU”, noted Augusto Santos Silva.
“It is a matter for all of us, it is not only a matter for some and not for others. It is a matter for all of us, first and foremost, because it is a necessary condition for our membership of the European Union”, he recalled, given that the rule of law is one of the fundamental principles of the European project.
Santos Silva said that the 27 member states should “always scrutinise together, through peer review methods” the state of the rule of law in each of the countries, underlining the importance of the European Commission’s annual report in this area.
The rule of law “is also a subject of interest to all Europeans”, said the minister, noting that this principle was one of the “central themes” of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which opened on 9 May in Strasbourg under the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU.
Portugal, which took over the presidency of the Council of the EU in January, has pledged to push for progress on the cases opened against Poland and Hungary.
However, the pandemic has hampered negotiations, as hearings in the General Affairs Councils must be held in person; otherwise, they can be challenged before the EU Court of Justice.
The hearings are expected to finally take place at the General Affairs Council – which brings together the European Affairs ministers of the 27 – on 22 June.
On 20 April, the Portuguese presidency organised, also within the General Affairs Council, a debate among the 27 on the situation of the rule of law in Germany, Ireland, Greece, Spain and France, an initiative launched still during the German presidency in the second half of 2020, which aims to establish a dialogue among the countries on the rule of law.
The first dialogue took place at the November General Affairs Council. Member states examined the rule of law in Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Estonia, following an alphabetical order that excludes the country in the presidency.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]