Rule of Law: Implications for EU Elections


This article is written in conjunction with IEU Law Society.

By Adam Paska

As students of an international university in Spain, we should be deeply invested in the upcoming EU parliamentary elections of June 2024. Many of us will have the opportunity to vote in these elections and shape the future of the EU. Since it is impossible to discuss the full extent of the EU Parliament’s agenda or plans for the upcoming term, I will delve into a current area of contention: the rule of law. This is one of the essential values mentioned in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and an area thoroughly discussed in the debate between Pablo Arias and Adrian Vazquez on the upcoming EU parliamentary election, hosted by IE University in collaboration with the debate club on Friday, January 19. 


The EU is a supranational organisation, creating uniform rules to promote freedom, peace and security within the EU borders, in exchange for a diminished sovereignty of Member States. However, the extent to which state sovereignty diminishes in exchange for a multitude of benefits is itself determined by MS, conferring the EU competence through the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. For example, legislative power can only be exercised to the extent that the TFEU confers such power in the specific area. Another example, and connecting to the supranationalist character of the EU and the topic of this article is Art. 7 of Treaty on European Union, which “allows for the possibility of suspending European Union (EU) membership rights if a country seriously and persistently breaches the principles on which the EU is founded as defined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union.” 

Rule of Law 

The EU is further composed of various institutions, namely and most prominently the Parliament, the Council of ministers, the Commission, the European Council and the Court of Justice of the European Union. To briefly introduce these, it is paramount to understand their work within the EU, or rather their powers. The legislative power is held by the Parliament and the Council of ministers, whilst the Commission typically must formally propose the legislation. And the executive power is vested and distributed between the European Council and the Commission, but the Council of ministers can also exercise certain executive powers.

The rule of law is thus reflected in the clear separation of powers between the institutions. Such separation is further accompanied by various checks and balances, or in other words, accountability mechanisms, that are paramount as they prevent a culmination and consequent abuse of power by one of the institutions or branches of power and ensure everyone abides by the law. This is true not only for the EU and its institutions, but national branches of power as well, where it is often the executive branch that asserts influence over the judiciary, centralising power and potentially leading to a body outside the confines of the law and unaccountable for its actions before its citizens and the EU. 

The Case of Hungary 

The rule of law was precisely the topic of discourse in Hungary for many years. The history of Hungary’s politically influenced judiciary can be traced back to 2011, when Orbán created the post of President of the National Office for the Judiciary, concentrating unrivaled powers in the hands of one appointee. To this day, Hungarian judges reveal that Viktor Orbán’s government is constantly overreaching its authority to sway the courts. 

However, on 18 July 2023, Hungary informed the Commission that it fulfils the enabling conditions on judicial independence. After assessing the situation, the Commission has determined that the legislative efforts made by Hungary do fulfil the horizontal enabling condition on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, a precondition for expenditure to be reimbursed. As such, the Commission decided to unblock €10.2 billion of previously frozen funds, allowing Hungary to request reimbursements of that sum. This decision was met with repercussions from the Members of European Parliament, who threatened to launch legal action against the European Commission if it released further frozen funds to Hungary. 

What to Watch for Next

The current parliamentary debate surrounds, among other, questions on the rule of law and determining the most effective mechanism to deal with such situations of blatant violation of the rule of law and EU values. It is in this strive that the European Parliament wishes to introduce a stronger mechanism of control with respect to the separation of power. It will be further interesting to monitor the very recent and ongoing situation between the commission and the European parliament and if you wish to gain greater insight into the efforts to protect the rule of law, take a look at the “Proposal for a Regulation” on the protection of the Union’s budget in case of generalised deficiencies as regards the rule of law in the Member States” or the summary note.

IEU Law Society
IEU Law Society
The IEU Law Society brings the legal world closer to our university's student body.

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