CEIPA Video Conference – The EU Mantra of Rule of Law: Will the Conditionality in Dispersing Substantial EU Funding Improve Freedom of the Press and Democracy?

The EU Mantra of Rule of Law: Will the Conditionality in Dispersing Substantial EU Funding Improve Freedom of the Press and Democracy?

The Centre for European and International Policy Action, CEIPA, organised a debate which took place on the 16th December 2020 from 2pm to 4pm, CET, via the Zoom platform 

The panel discussion between renowned policy makers and experts examined the way out of the current deadlock the European Union finds itself in when broaching the conditionality of the rule of law principle, with special attention to freedom of the press.

CEIPA ‘s team thanks the panelists and the attendees for their participation and their attendance in what it has been a lively debate. 

For Highlights and a full view of this video conference, please refer to this article.

Opening and welcome address: Ambassador (Hon.) Denise De Hauwere, President of CEIPA

Speakers in alphabetical order:

Karel Barták, journalist, publisher and EU affairs expert , formerly European Commission, Prague, Brussels

Karel Barták graduated from the Faculty of Law, Charles University Prague in 1979 and was then a journalist and reporter with the Czech News Agency (ČTK) and Press Correspondent in Paris, Moscow and Brussels. From 2006 to 2016 he was head of the DG EAC, European Commission. Between 2016 and 2018 he was Head of unit in EACEA the European Commission. He retired in January 2019. Since 2019 he has been a stringer for the Czech public radio and a research fellow for the Europeum think tank in Prague.

He has also worked for several other media groups including the BBC, Le Monde Diplomatique, 100+1, Mladý svět and Český rozhlas.

Daniel Freund, MEP Brussels, Strasbourg
Daniel Freund has been a member of the European Parliament for the Greens since 2019. His main topics are transparency, democracy, the fight against corruption and the future of the EU. He is a member of the Committees on Constitutional Affairs and Budgetary Control. He leads the work of the Green Group on the Conference on the Future of the EU, is the rapporteur for an independent ethics body and chairs the cross-party intergroup against corruption. Before Freund was elected to the European Parliament, he headed the European work of Transparency International for five years. Prior to that, he gained experience at the German Foreign Office, the EU Delegation in Hong Kong, the consulting firm Deloitte and the French Civil Service Academy ENA. He studied political science, economics and law in Leipzig, Paris and Washington. Freund holds a master’s degree in “Affaires Publiques” from Sciences Po Paris.
Geoffrey Harris, policy analyst, former deputy Director European Parliament, Brussels, London

Mr Harris worked initially for the Socialist Group of the EP on budgetary and institutional affairs. After serving as diplomatic adviser to the President of the European Parliament he began from 1992 to work as an EP official on the enlargement process and on relations with other European countries not in the EU. From 2005 he was responsible for the Human Rights activities of the institution and from 2012 he worked in Washington as Deputy Head of the EP Liaison Office with the U.S. Congress.

Since retiring he has been participating in academic life in Belgium and in China.

He has written one book: The Dark Side Of Europe (1993) on the subject of right-wing extremism in contemporary Europe and has contributed to a number of academic publications, published a number of academic papers and articles on EU issues, including the enlargement process , human rights, transatlantic and EU-China relations and Europe’s normative power. He has lectured in many countries not only in the US and the UK but also in China, Israel, Poland, Belgium, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Malta, Ireland etc. He has been a visiting scholar at Cornell (US) Edinburgh (UK)  and Fudan, Shanghai universities.

He was born in 1950 London and graduated from the University of Manchester before gaining a Masters´ degree at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium

Péter Krekó, academic and international policy analyst, executive director of Political Capital, Budapest
Dr. Péter Krekó is a political psychologist. He is the director of Political Capital and Associate Professor at ELTE University in Budapest. Peter is affiliated with two Washington-based think-tanks, as a Reagan-Fascell Fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy and a Senior Fellow at the Central for European Policy Analysis. Before that, he was a Europe’s Futures Visiting Fellow of the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) and Erste Foundation, and a non-resident Associate Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University SAIS Bologna Institute of Policy Research. During 2016-2017, Péter worked as a Fulbright Visiting Professor in the United States at the Central Eurasian Studies Department of Indiana University. The main focus of his interest is the political psychology and institutional background of disinformation, political tribalism and authoritarian influence. He defended his thesis on the social psychology of conspiracy theories at the ELTE University in 2014, and did his habilitation in 2020. He was the co-chair of the PREVENT working group at the EU Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) between 2013 and 2016. He is the author of two books. The first is entitled The Hungarian Far Right, which was co-authored by Attila Juhász. The book was published by Ibidem Verlag in 2017 and it is being distributed by the Columbia University Press. His second book on fake news and conspiracy theories was published in Hungarian in 2018, becoming a social science best-seller. He is a regular commentator in the leading international media, and published pieces in Foreign Affairs, Journal of Democracy, Newsweek, and Guardian. He is the owner of Political Capital Institute.
Patsy Sörensen, Secretary of the Board of Directors CEIPA

Patsy Sörensen is founder and President of NGO Payoke, a non-governmental organisation focused on assisting victims of human trafficking and investigating organised crime on an international level.  In her former function as Vice Mayor of Antwerp she has introduced a number of reforms facilitating access of citizens to the policy makers and opening the door for fresh initiatives towards equal opportunities and gender balance.

As a European Parliamentarian she has introduced a number of new initiatives in the broader field of human rights, judicial prosecution of perpetrators of crime and improved safeguards for victims of human trafficking. Patsy Sörensen was heavily involved in formulating the policies towards EU enlargement and led negotiations with a number of candidate states prior to their membership in the European Union. From her early profession as art teacher to her political career as Vice Mayor of Antwerp and Member of the European Parliament, Patsy Sörensen has demonstrated her full commitment to cooperation with the new EU members States, with ACP countries with the aim of combating organised crime, corruption and creating improved legal protection for victims of injustice and exclusion.  

Karl van den Broeck, journalist, Antwerp, Brussels
Photo: 71 Bozar Team 2019 CLessire
Karl van den Broeck (BE – °1966). Chief editor of Apache.be, a platform for investigative journalism based in Antwerp. Coordinator of Agora, platform for debate and discussion at BOZAR in Brussels. Former chief editor of Knack Magazine and journalist for De Morgen. Writer of ‘The real father of the Pil’ and ‘Why I want to save the indians’. Apache was awarded the Arch Prize for Freedom of Speech in 2017.

Moderation: Peter von Bethlenfalvy, CEIPA

CEIPA Governing: Ambassador (Hon) Denise De Hauwere, President; Patsy Sörensen, former MEP, former Vice City Mayor of Antwerp, President PAYOKE; Dominique Foubert, Treasurer CEIPA and Webmaster

CEIPA Executive: Jelena von Helldorff – Senior Policy Advisor, Anna Goos – Senior Policy Advisor, Silvia Lamonaca, Senior Policy Advisor, Heather Fermor – Policy Advisor, Christine Holzer Executive Secretary


Background Information for the Video Conference.

Article 2 of The Treaty on European Union (TEU) declares the following principle:

“The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”

The most fundamental condition for membership in the European Union as set by the provisions of the so-called “Copenhagen Criteria” (1993) are stable institutions guaranteeing democracy and the rule of law. Despite the rule of law being a fundamental principle of the Union, in recent years the EU institutions have failed to counteract the rise of authoritarianism, threats to the legal order, curtailment on freedom of the press, populism, nationalism, cronyism, corruption, misuse of EU funding and the dismantlement of judicial independence in a number of EU member states.

A free press is the lifeblood of democracy and pluralism. It embodies freedom of expression, a universal human right, and holds leaders to account.  It is the public’s watchdog, “the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen”, in the words of Winston Churchill. When the press is stifled by state authorities, the EU institutions must step in and exercise their mandate by imposing corrective measures. 

However, this function of the European Union is less and less visible and is increasingly under scrutiny by the society at large. The absence of corrective measures and accountability, as well as a lack of sanctions against governments’ abuse of power, violations of the rule of law and restraining of fundamental freedoms is deplorable. Conditionality imposed upon the EU funds is just one way to counter such abuses The European Union, for the sake of its own existence and effectiveness, must provide strong and sustainable safeguards to guarantee freedom of the press, functioning parliamentary democracy, judicial independence and a vibrant civil society.  

The policy makers, analysts and journalists participating in this CEIPA event will express their views on these issues and beyond. These are some of the questions we are putting on the table:

  • Has the EU enlargement of the past two decades been coupled with a genuine adoption of the EU principles of the rule of law, democracy and freedom of speech and of the media?
  • Have the political and economic interests of the EU overruled these principles when the door was opened to the accession of new Member States?
  • Who monitors the application of Article 2 of the European Treaty when it comes to violation of freedom of the press and of the independence of the justice system?
  • Has the unanimity principle in the decision making of the EU Council in the past decades been used by state and government leaders as a fig-leave to cover the connivance over the serious
    breaches of the rule of law, the curtailing of the freedom of the media and the misuse of EU funding?
  • Has the decades-long EU funding allocated to states that violate the above principles boosted autocracy, censorship, corruption, populism, and intolerance, instead of strengthening democracy, judicial independence and freedom of the press?
  • What has been the role of the European institutions and agencies – such as the European Commission, the EU Council, EUROJUST, OLAF, the European Public Prosecutor, EUROPOL, CEPOL and many others – in preventing large scale threats against journalists, corruption and misuse of EU funds involving law enforcement and political leadership in a number of European countries?  
  • Is the harassment and murder of journalists investigating corruption a symptom of the absence of any control mechanism the EU institutions may have over Member States in breach of the rule of law? 
  • Have the perpetrators and those masterminding and running criminal gangs and networks murdering journalists in the EU Member States been identified, prosecuted, and sentenced in the
  • Why hasn‘t the disagreement between Hungary, Poland and the European Commission and a number of EU Member States over the rule of law, freedom of the press and the principles of solidarity not been settled during the past years?
  • Will the European Union be able to establish a procedure to hold all EU Member States accountable by the same standards, monitor them, and set appropriate mechanisms to sanction breaches of Article 2?

The European Parliament is playing a key role in this debate, by pursuing a way to restore trust in EU institutions by pushing for a system of checks and balances to be rigorously imposed upon all EU Member States. The 2018/19 initiative of the European Parliament, establishing the first legislative provisions (resolution T8-0038/2019) linking budgetary issues, financial management and interests of the Union with rule of law and functioning democracy is a most welcome step in the right direction. The Union must show determination and a sense of a common identity and overcome “national egoism and sovereignty” to be able to respond to those who violate our democratic values.

The citizens of the European Union are eager to see the EU Council under the German presidency (from the 1st of July to the 31st of December 2020) adopt a legally binding instrument implementing a strict, balanced and just indicting mechanism that links the protection of the rule of law and freedom of the press to the  Union’s budgetary and financial interests.

The rule of law conditionality within the European Union’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) must remain at the centre of public debate for the future. It concerns all taxpayers across the Union.

Finally, the heads of states and governments in the European Council must find a way to enact just and transparent procedural steps in making the €1.8 trillion budget-and-recovery plan a reality, whilst ensuring that the use of the €750 billion EU recovery fund will be strictly linked to the protection of the European values of democracy and rule of law. Countries are in a dire need of funding due to the economic falloff caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The public opinion expects results from the European Union. Obscure and improbable procedural excuses will not help this time.


Further Reading and Information click here : European Parliament Report – Addressing violations of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights

European Democracy Action Plan – Website

European Democracy Action Plan – Factsheet

European Democracy Action Plan – Questions & Answers

European Democracy Action Plan – Public consultation results

SLAPP – call for experts

European Democracy Action Plan

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