José Manuel Fernandes (Member of the European Parliament)
The principle of the rule of law is not just one among other basic principles of our democracy. It is more than that: it is a sine qua non condition for the recognition of all other fundamental rights. There is no effective freedom of speech, of association, of conscience, among others, in a community that is not governed by law. Where there is no “rule of law”, there is arbitrariness and lack of security. In such conditions, there is no freedom.
When the “rule of law” is abandoned, explicitly or implicitly, we embark on a path that leads from civility to barbarism, from equality before the law, to the rule of the strongest; from the liberal democratic system built and perfected over the last decades, to alternative, authoritarian regimes that restrict freedoms. Whoever foregoes the “rule of law” necessarily foregoes the fundamental principles on which the Portuguese constitutional order and the European Union Treaties are founded (see art. 2 TEU). Therefore, respect for the rule of law is not an option but an obligation in order to be eligible to be a member of the European Union.
The European Union recognized the centrality and inalienable nature of this principle when it approved the general conditionality regime for the protection of the Union budget, in December 2020, whose legal admissibility the Court of Justice of the European Union came to endorse a few weeks ago. Following this court ruling, the European Parliament adopted a resolution this week calling for a swift reaction from the European Commission, which is responsible for enforcing the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation.
Although the conditions under which the resolution was adopted were not the most favorable, in light of the events in Ukraine and the role that countries such as Poland and Hungary have played in receiving Ukrainian refugees, the EU must never give up one of its fundamental values. Indeed, it is precisely disregard for the rule of law that leads to situations such as the tragic war we are witnessing today. We must respond preventively, not with the weapons of war, but with the best legal resources. In the interests of Europe and the rest of the world.
 In cases C-156/21 and C-157/21.
 “European Parliament resolution of 10 March 2022 on the rule of law and the consequences of the ECJ ruling”, European Parliament, access at 17.03.2022, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2022-0074_EN.html.
Picture credits: Endzeiter.