Liberties’ annual Rule of Law Report on the European Union is published

March 18, 2024

The fifth annual report on the state of the rule of law in the European Union is published byLiberties, the European Union for Civil Liberties – the most comprehensive report on the rule of law in the EU to date from the civil society network. The report, prepared by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute together with Liberties and other national members and partners, is known as the “shadow report” for the European Commission’s annual rule of law audit.

The rule of law requires the government to serve the interests of the people, but “2024 m. report on freedom and the rule of law” shows that national governments are seeking to weaken the rule of law, which inevitably has a negative impact on citizens’ well-being. Violations of the rule of law can be found in every country covered by the report, but the frequency and severity of the violations vary.

Lithuania’ s legal system has undergone important changes and measures have been taken to ensure fair pay for judicial staff, prosecutors and judges. A new transparency policy is used to reduce corruption. Progress has been made on media freedom, one of the most important developments being the establishment of the Media Support Fund, which will for the first time provide public funding for media projects. Lithuania has seen a number of positive and negative legal, political and societal changes. Highlights included amendments to the Law on Assemblies to strengthen freedom of assembly, legislative efforts to combat hate crimes, but also the challenges posed by an MP’s anti-Semitic remarks, as well as the difficulties faced by the LGBTQI+ community in protest, the rejection of an amendment to the law on the protection of minors, and the challenges of managing irregular migration. Regarding the non-respect of human rights obligations and other systemic issues affecting the rule of law environment, there has also been no progress compared to last year. Lithuania continues to face significant human rights challenges.

Reports from well-established democracies such as France, Germany and Belgium reveal that the rule of law is sometimes violated, but this is not a widespread problem. The real concern comes when there is a possibility of an extremist party gaining power, as this could turn these individual problems into one big systemic problem in the future. In other older democracies, such as Italy and Sweden, where the far-right came to power and gradually began to erode the rule of law, the disintegration seems to have been slow. This can be explained by the resilience of older democratic institutions to big changes. In the EU’s young democracies, the trajectory of the rule of law can change quickly – either up or down. Take Slovakia, where the recently installed government, inspired by the Hungarian model, is systematically destroying democratic structures. Meanwhile, in Slovenia, the new pro-democracy government is actively trying to remedy the situation. Poland’s experience shows that it is not easy to restore the rule of law without destroying the very legal foundations it seeks to revive. On the other hand, the example of Hungary shows that reforms cannot rely on EU pressure and sanctions alone.

According to Martynas Jockus, Director of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute,

“2023 m. Significant human rights challenges remain in Lithuania, such as violations of constitutional principles in the policy and practice of rejection of asylum seekers and migrants, violations of the rights of persons from the LGBTQI+ community, the lack of legal recognition of same-sex partnerships, and the delay in the implementation of decisions of supranational courts.”

Balazs Denes, Director of Liberties Europe, commented:

“The Freedom and Rule of Law Report 2024 shows that deliberate damage or government negligence in correcting rule of law violations can eventually develop into systemic problems. A growing far right relying on these violations will very quickly destroy European democracy unless the European Commission makes much more decisive use of the tools at its disposal, including infringement procedures or the conditional freezing of EU funds. We do not need to wait for a captive state like Hungary to emerge, where an unbreakable anti-democratic regime takes root.”

Photo: Liberties