Rule-of-law backsliding: Is there a way forward for the EU?

The rule of law is increasingly attracting the attention of the EU institutions, especially now that constitutional capture  has become an accepted state of affairs in both Hungary and Poland. On December 20th, the European Commission invoked Article 7(1) procedure against Poland and is currently considering taking the same action against Hungary. The EU has extensive experience in monitoring the democratic rule of law and fundamental rights in the context of enlargement and its neighbourhood policy. Before acceding to the EU, candidate countries must actively demonstrate respect for EU rule of law values. A similar mechanism, however, does not exist after accession. With the aim of addressing this shortcoming, CEPS serves as the coordinator of the ENGAGE Fellowship Programme, with the support of the Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE). The programme endeavours to build bridges between representatives from civil society and think tank actors in Central and Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans. To this end, the programme promotes EU-level policy debates on issues related to democracy, rule of law and rights. In this context, CEPS organised a high-level policy meeting at the European Parliament on January 22nd hosted by MEP Sophie In’t Veld. Five ENGAGE Fellows from Hungary, Poland, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia presented Policy Briefs they had prepared on the rule of the law in their respective countries to MEPs and other key stakeholders in a closed-door setting. The discussion covered a wide range of questions: Can democracy exist in the absence of the rule of law? What is the likely impact of the evident willingness in certain EU member states and pre-accession countries to trade the rule of law for ‘political stability’? What is the explanation why some member states do not ‘trust’ other member states, for instance, in cooperation on extradition and surrender procedures? These questions will inform and guide future research projects carried out within the ENGAGE programme.

For more information on the ENGAGE Fellowship, contact: Sergio Carrera (