The European Parliament on October 25 passed a resolution to end the current “crisis-driven” approach to perceived breaches of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in EU member states. They called on the EU Commission to set up a binding EU mechanism to monitor and report annually on their records in these fields.

“We have provided the European Union with the instruments to enforce all the other policy areas – competition policies, police and justice cooperation, foreign policies…. but our core values are not protected by instruments that are sufficiently strong to make sure that the values are upheld throughout the European Union,” said lead MEP Sophie in’t Veld (ALDE, NL) during the debate ahead of the vote.

Her legislative initiative was passed by 505 votes to 171, with 39 abstentions.

According to the wording of the resolution, the new EU mechanism should ensure that all EU member states respect the values enshrined in the EU treaties and set clear, evidence-based and non-political criteria for assessing their records on democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights (also known as DRF) in a systematic way and on an equal footing.

Parliament’s proposal for an EU mechanism on DRF aims to incorporate existing DRF tools in a single instrument and ensure that they are used to the full. It also aims to bridge the apparent gap between DRF monitoring in EU candidate countries and the lack of effective tools vis-à-vis those that are already EU member states. Finally, it provides for regular DRF debates in the EU institutions and national parliaments.

The European Parliament will now ask the EU Commission to present a proposal by September 2017 for a Union Pact for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights in the form of an inter-institutional agreement aligning and complementing existing mechanisms. The Commission will have to give a reasoned reply to Parliament’s request.

According to the shadow Rapporteur for the report, Monika Flašíková-Beňová an MEP with the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) Group, the EU needs new tools to tackle threats to the fundamental principles that underpin the democracies.

“When a country is applying to join the European Union, we have significant powers to monitor the rule of law situation in the country,” she said. “This helps ensure that all new Member States meet the highest possible standard regarding respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights. However, as soon as a country joins, this monitoring process stops. Today, the European Parliament has strongly backed our proposal for a ‘scoreboard for democracy’ that would ensure that existing Member States continue to meet the standards we expect from those wanting to join the club.”

In turn, S&D Group spokesperson for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, Birgit Sippel, said: “The European Commission can order Member States to adjust their budgets or tax schemes to make them compliant with EU law. Member States accept the fact they are bound to comply EU law in these areas. This isn’t the case when it comes to enforcing democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. Today’s vote is a step in the right direction.”