European Union: NHRIS Reveal the Current Rule of Law Landscape Across the European Union

May 2024

For the fifth subsequent year, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in the European Union (EU) provide their insights on their national rule of law situation. Gathered in an ENNHRI submission to the European Commission, these country-specific reports (available below) focus on checks and balances, including the situation of NHRIs, and the impacts of securitisation on rule of law. The reports identify relevant challenges and how ENNHRI and NHRIs are addressing these. Building on this, NHRIs recommend how state authorities and regional policymakers can strengthen the rule of law across the EU.

The need to strengthen implementation of European Commission recommendations

As in previous years, ENNHRI’s members from EU Member States have provided information and key recommendations for the report. They focused on essential rule of law topics, alongside state authorities’ and NHRIs’ follow-up to European Commission rule of law recommendations.

NHRIs again note the inconsistent and insufficient follow-up by state authorities to the country-specific recommendations. To counter this, ENNHRI recommends that the European Commission develop a dedicated, transparent mechanism to monitor the implementation process. Moreover, ENNHRI recommends the Council of the EU to engage further with NHRIs in the rule of law dialogues. This is in line with the 2023 Presidency conclusions on the evaluation of the annual rule of law dialogue.

Issues affecting NHRIs as a part of checks and balances and their enabling space

In the report, ENNHRI members underlined persistent challenges to the rule of law in the EU. This includes the ability of NHRIs to act as a key element of the national system of checks and balances.

Numerous issues are negatively impacting the enabling space that NHRIs have. These include a lack of consultation with NHRIs by national authorities in relevant legislative and policy-making processes, alongside insufficient follow-up to NHRIs’ recommendations. NHRIs also continue to lack adequate resources to carry out their mandates effectively. Regarding the establishment of NHRIs in all EU countries, some progress is noticeable in EU countries where there is no NHRI yet in line with the UN Paris Principles (apart from Italy). The overall system of checks and balances is also being undermined by the judiciary’s legitimacy and authority being called into question; excessive use of accelerated legislative procedures; insufficient time for public consultations on draft laws; and a lack of human rights impact assessments.

Furthermore, restrictive and possibly disproportionate measures introduced in many EU Member States in response to securitisation in the context of migration as well as terrorism threats are detrimental to human rights and the rule of law. Finally, EU ENNHRI members have voiced concerns regarding the insufficient implementation of European Courts’ judgments.

ENNHRI’s key recommendations

To address these pressing matters, ENNHRI has issued a series of recommendations to EU policy makers and national authorities. For example, ENNHRI recommends to:

  • Further advance the implementation of the European Commission’s recommendations on the rule of law by state authorities, in a timely manner and in cooperation with NHRIs. For instance, the European Commission should initiate infringement proceedings and apply the rule of law conditionality where there is a persistent lack of implementation of the European Commission’s recommendations concerning structural rule of law challenges.
  • Firmly support the establishment and enabling space for independent and effective NHRIs which are key element of healthy checks and balances. To do so, the Commission should adopt a European Commission Recommendation on NHRIs to support the establishment of a strong and independent NHRI in each EU Member State.
  • Safeguard and strengthen other checks and balances across the EU. ENNHRI recommends that the European Commission and EU Member States ensure transparent, timely, inclusive, and meaningful public consultations, including of NHRIs, in fundamental rights-related law and policy-making processes.
  • Ensure the effective implementation of European Courts’ judgments in consultation with NHRIs and civil society. For example, the EU, the Council of Europe, and EU Member States should support the development of procedures of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union to strengthen meaningful participation of NHRIs.
  • Ensure a human rights-based approach regarding securitisation. ENNHRI recommends, among other things, that the European Commission and EU Member States conduct human rights impact assessments respectively of European provisions which are relevant for national security and law enforcement activities, as well as of national laws and policies concerning national security.
  • Address other persisting challenges for the rule of law, including structural human rights issues, while acknowledging that the rule of law and fundamental rights are mutually reinforcing. To do so, the European Commission should further identify and recognise the systematic nature of fundamental rights violations across EU Member States and address them and their interrelation with the deterioration of the rule of law in its report.

Current and upcoming reports and more information

Download the report on the state of the rule of law in the EU.

[European Network of National Human Rights Institutions. ENNHRI]