03 May 2021

ENNHRI submits a Report on the Rule of Law in EU candidate and potential candidate countries to inform the European Commission Enlargement Package 2021

ENNHRI has made a submission to the European Commission to illustrate developments on the rule of law situation in candidate and potential candidate countries over the past year, based on the reporting of ENNHRI members in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey.

ENNHRI’s submission shows that a number of challenges continue to affect progress towards the EU accession ‘fundamentals’ – rule of law, fundamental rights and the functioning of democratic institutions – in enlargement countries, also against the background of the emergency situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges include the need to strengthen & support, within the national checks and balances systems, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), as reflected in the latest recommendations of the GANHRI’s Sub-Committee on Accreditation and in ENNHRI’s members reporting on their enabling environment to effectively carry out their mandates. Other common challenges relate to transparency, accountability and openness of public administrations, the functioning of justice systems, obstacles to the work of civil society organisations and human rights defenders as well as threats to media freedom.

The reports’ findings point to the importance of stepping up efforts to strengthen the framework for the respect of the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy in candidate and potential candidate countries within the accession process, as acknowledged in the European Commission’s 2020 Enlargement Strategy for the Western Balkans. In this context, the establishment and strengthening of NHRIs is of particular importance, also as a means to enable NHRIs to contribute to a regular and comprehensive monitoring and follow-up of developments related to the rule of law in the enlargement region.

Indeed, as independent, state-mandated bodies with a broad human rights mandate, NHRIs can play a key role in driving concrete progress to advance rule of law, human rights and democracy on the ground, and thus contribute to the effectiveness of the EU accession process. To further enable them to do so, the report contains a number of concrete and targeted recommendations addressed to the EU, including as regards:

  • Giving a more concrete consideration of the independence and effectiveness of NHRIs in enlargement countries, and government’s responsiveness to their recommendations, as a standalone indicator to measure progress on the EU accession fundamentals, to be considered within accession negotiations;
  • Enabling NHRIs in bridging key EU objectives within the accession process with national realities, including through additional support for NHRIs’ regular submissions to the annual enlargement package through ENNHRI, enhanced participation of NHRIs in key policy fora and effective support to NHRIs under threat – also building on ENNHRI’s guide for engaging with NHRIs;
  • Supporting NHRIs in bridging national realities with the EU accession fundamentals, including by supporting follow-up by state authorities of NHRIs’ recommendations and reinforcing the need for national actors to respect NHRIs’ mandate, and facilitating mutual engagement;
  • Strengthening complementarities across policy initiatives and enhancing cooperation with other regional actors to address common concerns on the respect for rule of law, human rights and democracy in candidate and potential candidate countries, in particular through supporting, including through ENNHRI, implementation of the 2021 Council of Europe Committee of Ministers Recommendation on NHRIs.

The report, which ENNHRI will present to the European Commission, is meant to inform the assessment by the European Commission on progress towards the EU’s accession fundamentals with a view to the Enlargement Package 2021. ENNHRI welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the European Commission’s assessment of the progress made by candidate and potential candidate countries on the EU accession fundamentals. A regular involvement of ENNHRI and its members in this process reaffirms the significance of NHRIs’ position and contribution in line with the EU’s commitment to enhance support and cooperation with NHRIs as a means to promote a global system for human rights and democracy within its external action, as reaffirmed in the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024.

This report follows the first ENNHRI submission to consultations for the European Commission Enlargement Package in 2020 and ENNHRI’s 2020 rule of law reporting, and complements ENNHRI’s contribution to the EU’s 2021 rule of law monitoring cycle covering the rule of law situation in EU Member States. In June 2021, ENNHRI will publish a more comprehensive Rule of Law Report covering all its members across wider Europe.

» Download ENNHRI’s submission to the European Commission

* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSC 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence