The European Commission’s annual rule of law reports: A new monitoring tool
The annual rule of law reports, launched by the Commission in September 2020, are a new addition to the European institutions’ rule of law toolbox. The exercise can be described as a monitoring tool, as it collects data on the state of the rule of law in each of the 27 EU Member States but without drawing legal conclusions or giving specific recommendations.
The second rule of law report was published in July 2021 and the third is expected in 2022, with the annual exercise becoming a permanent mechanism. The methodology adopted by the Commission provides for reporting on four subject areas in all 27 Member States:
(i) justice systems;
(ii) the anti-corruption framework;
(iii) media pluralism; and
(iv) other institutional issues related to checks and balances.
This methodology underlines the close involvement of Member States in the preparation of the annual reports and their follow-up. The Member States are involved throughout the process by way of:
(i) a network of contact persons on the rule of law that meets regularly with the Commission;
(ii) contact persons providing written contributions to the report;
(iii) dialogue between the Commission and Member States through the network of contact persons, the group of contact persons on national justice systems, the national contact points on corruption, and bilaterally at political and technical level;
(iv) country visits; and
(v) the opportunity for each Member State to comment on the part of the report concerning them.
The reports have met with some criticism from academics, who draw attention to the purely descriptive, rather than prescriptive nature of the reports and the lack of concrete follow-up.