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Speech to the Bundestag by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the FDP and Green motions on EU rule‑of‑law mechanisms

14.05.2020 - Speech

“The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights (…). These values are common to the Member States”.

It is no coincidence that those lines are found at the beginning of the Treaty on European Union, since ultimately they define what is at the core of our united Europe. That’s why it is not enough merely to invoke these values in our rhetoric. These values need to be lived by; they need to be implemented on a daily basis. Wherever they are not, protest must be raised in every shape and form.

Unfortunately, around the world and regrettably in parts of Europe too, we are seeing what the Economist has fittingly described as a “pandemic of power grabs”. All measures taken to combat the COVID‑19 pandemic must conform to the rule of law – meaning they must be appropriate, proportionate and temporary. Anyone trying to use the pandemic as cover to permanently dislodge the principles that underpin the rule of law should not be allowed to get away with it.

Protest is also merited, ladies and gentlemen, by those who are currently trying to subvert to their own ends a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court that explicitly recognises the primacy of European legislation over national law. I will therefore say it again very clearly: the Federal Constitutional Court did not deny the primacy of European legislation; it reaffirmed the principle. The court has also clearly refuted the claim brought before it that the ECB’s asset‑purchasing programmes during the financial crisis had amounted to monetary state Financing.

It has thereby actually strengthened the ECB for the current corona crisis. All these other interpretations are misguided.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The European Union cannot and will not permit the rule of law to be hollowed out. There are some indisputable shortfalls, and they are high on the agenda for our Presidency of the Council, which begins in a few weeks. We will support the Commission and the European Parliament in the Article 7 procedures they have launched with respect to Poland and Hungary. When it comes to protecting fundamental European values, including those underpinning the rule of law, there can be no taboo against investigating any violation of the treaties.

Finally, the German Government will also be working to see the provision of EU funds more strongly tied to adherence to the principles of the rule of law. This will play an important role, for example, in the upcoming negotiations on the multiannual financial framework. Those flagrantly and continuously moving away from the EU’s rule‑of‑law principles, to which we have all committed ourselves, can expect to bear some financial consequences.

Ladies and gentlemen,

At the same time, we know that these correctional measures and sanctions do not always achieve what we want them to, given that – and this is a problem – they only take effect once those principles have already been clearly violated in individual member states. What we therefore want to create, during our Presidency of the Council, is a preventive instrument that will enable us to engage in open and constructive dialogue about the rule of law as we never have before. To that end, we intend to launch a mechanism during our Council Presidency in which all participants will submit themselves to a reciprocal review of their rule of law. It will be based on the Commission’s first annual report on the rule of law in the EU, which is to be published in September. We will also use it as the basis for regular, open and also critical discussions in the Council. Developments across Europe will be addressed, as will chapters on specific member states. This is unprecedented, but it is essential.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The message is clear: the rule of law is not and must on no account be treated as a minor point, something merely nice to have; it is the safeguard of safeguards and the foundation stone of our shared rules‑based community here in Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am under no illusions. These innovations will not be greatly popular everywhere; in fact, they already aren’t. I am therefore appealing for willingness from all our partners in Europe – and the overwhelming majority of the EU’s partners and member states are contributing to this initiative, through which we will learn from one another in order to reinforce the rule of law in all of our countries.

In short, we should return the rule of law to what it ought to be: not something that divides Europe, but something that unites all Europeans.

Thank you very much.

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