Close-up Of Mallet And Justice Scale In Front Of European Union Flag
16 May 2023

NHRIs hold up a mirror to the rule of law in the European Union

For the fourth year running, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in the European Union (EU) have reported on the rule of law situation in their countries. Collected in an ENNHRI submission to the European Commission, their accounts point to national challenges in the EU-wide rule of law landscape and how ENNHRI and NHRIs are addressing them. Building on this, they recommend what state authorities and EU policymakers should do to ensure respect for the rule of law.

Ensuring follow-up to European Commission rule of law recommendations

This year all ENNHRI members from EU Member States contributed to the joint report, providing comparative information and key recommendations. They focused on certain rule of law topics, alongside state authorities’ and NHRIs’ follow-up to the European Commission’s first-ever rule of law recommendations.

To strengthen their implementation, ENNHRI suggests that the Commission ensures consistent monitoring and reporting of state authorities’ follow-up of them. In case a lack of follow-up persists, the Commission should also consider enforcement actions. These might include infringement proceedings and triggering the rule of law conditionality regulation.

Rule of law challenges identified by NHRIs in the EU

NHRIs themselves are recognised as a rule of law indicator and critical to the national system of checks and balances. However, ENNHRI’s reporting reveals numerous issues affecting the enabling space for NHRIs. This includes unsatisfactory cooperation from state authorities; states providing insufficient resources; shortcomings in the appointment and dismissal procedures of heads of institutions; and, in some cases, the harassment of NHRIs and the obstruction of their work.

Furthermore, in the last year there has been insufficient progress towards establishing a Paris Principles-compliant NHRI in EU countries without one. In Italy, Malta, and Romania, legislative proposals to establish an NHRI or strengthen existing institutions have not significantly advanced. In Czechia, the Public Defender noted some positive steps taken towards possible amendments to its legislation, which are nevertheless still pending. ENNHRI recommends that the European Commission adopt an EU-wide Recommendation setting out common standards for establishment and functioning of independent and effective NHRIs in EU Member States.

Beyond this, NHRIs indicate that human rights defenders and civil society organisations operate in increasingly difficult conditions. Moreover, this year’s report focuses particularly on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights: which is significant but remains relatively unknown.

Furthermore, NHRIs underline how firms steps are needed to enhance the effective and timely implementation of European Court of Human Rights’ judgments. These include overcoming structural, financial and political obstacles identified as hindering their execution.

Tackling the issues at hand

To address these pressing issues, NHRIs outline a series of recommendations to EU policy makers and national authorities. They should:

  • Take concrete steps to advance state authorities’ implementation of European Commission rule of law recommendations, making sure this is timely and done in cooperation with NHRIs;
  • Firmly support the establishment of and ensure enabling space for independent and effective NHRIs, while developing EU-wide standards on NHRIs;
  • Support, protect and empower human rights defenders and civil society space;
  • Prioritise and support the implementation of European Court of Human Rights’ judgments, doing this in consultation with NHRIs and civil society;
  • Ensure a human rights-based approach to the use of AI, including through institutionalised cooperation with NHRIs;
  • Address other persistent challenges for the rule of law, including structural human rights issues.

Upcoming regional report and more information

Download the report on the state of the rule of law in the EU. Later this year, ENNHRI will publish its regional report with insights from its members across Europe.

Explore an online tool for NHRIs on executing European Court of Human Rights’ judgments and online resource on human rights defenders. Read more on ENNHRI’s work on democracy and rule of law.

The country reports of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia form part of the ‘Supporting National Human Rights Institutions in monitoring fundamental rights and the fundamental rights aspects of the rule of law’ project funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Regional Cooperation.