[WATCH] No popularity can absolve governments of rule of law obligation – Engerer

Engerer accuses Roberta Metsola of failing to take EP’s rule of law mission to Greece where centre-right government holds sway

Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer
Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer

Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer (S&D) delivered a scathing indictment of “popular” governments who were ignoring their obligations to respect rule of law in EU member states, as MEPs warned about democratic backsliding across many member states and criticised the Commission’s inaction in safeguarding EU values.

Engerer urged MEPs to keep defending democracy, human rights and the rule of law because citizens needed both national and European representatives to keep those in power in check.

“Especially when those in power think popularity absolves them of respecting the rule of law or protecting human rights,” Engerer said.

“In a democracy, popularity should never make anyone believe that they are above the law or that they could decide which rights citizens could enjoy.”

Engerer was the sole Maltese MEP to speak in plenary on Wednesday on the assessment of the European Commission’s 2023 Rule of Law report.

The text was adopted with 374 votes for, 113 against and 45 abstentions, following a debate in plenary, on Wednesday afternoon.

Nationalist MEP David Casa voted against the report. Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba abstained. Labour MEPs Alfred Sant and Josianne Cutajar did not register their vote although they were present for other votes. Engerer voted in favour.

Engerer said the European Commission’s evaluation of rule of law in member states should be carried out by an independent panel and criticised it for its shortcomings on enforcing the conditionality mechanism with Hungary, dubbing it “shameful”.

He said he was also disappointed that European Parliament president Roberta Metsola had failed to take House’s message in its own resolution on rule of law in Greece, where an EPP-affiliated party governs. “She prentedns that there are no issues in this country where the government is accused of sprying on journalists and politicians, where there is a systematic breach of the rule oflaw and where a journalist has also been assassinated, and until today there is total impunity.”

Engerer finally called on citizens and activists to constantly engage in critical thinking and carry out their own democratic revolutions.

The Parliament on its part took note some concrete positive developments, including the new Polish government’s efforts to strengthen the rule of law and media freedom, whilst highlighting persistent threats to democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights as well as specific problems or incidents in several EU member states.

MEPs were concerned about proposed changes in Slovakia’s institutions and media landscape, as well about the proposed amnesty law in Spain. They called out systemic discriminatory, non-transparent and unfair practices against companies in certain sectors in Hungary and the use of EU funds to enrich political allies of the country’s government.

They also endorsed the call to end citizenship by investment schemes such as the one in Malta and drew attention to money laundering – a cross-border issue that is intrinsically linked to corruption.

MEPs too said the independence of oversight authorities was also under threat, as in the case of Greece’s handling of the spyware scandal, while work still needs to be done to protect journalists from SLAPPs and other threats.

Civil society faces challenges in many countries, including in Slovakia where plans have been announced to restrict the work of NGOs and stigmatise organisations receiving foreign funding.

Once again, MEPs stress the Commission’s monitoring is not enough and should evolve to include concrete enforcement action, condemning the sometimes “open and unashamed non-compliance” of several member states with EU law.

“The Commission’s Rule of Law Report should treat each member state equally and objectively. Political pressure from governments must not be allowed to influence it, because Europeans have a right to know how the rule of law is faring in their country - wherever they may live,” said Dutch rapporteur Sophie in ‘t Veld (Renew).

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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