European Western Balkans

Policy Brief: The EU should continue to insist on Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation

Media; Photo: European Union

VIENNA – To avoid an institutional crisis and restore its internal and external credibility, the EU needs to foster Member States’ and candidate countries’ compliance with its rule of law standards, recommended Policy Brief “The Conditionality Regulation: A true European means to face a rule of law crisis in wider Europe and foster media freedom”, published within the “WB2EU” network.

The authors added that the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation needs to be applied in order to push Member States to respect of the rule of law.

“The respect of the rule of law has a direct impact on many aspects of functioning democracies, such as media freedom, and will allow the EU to control the spread of fake news,” the Policy Brief stressed.

According to the authors, the respect of the rule of law is the center of the functioning of democracies within the European institutional settings and has become even more relevant in the aftermath of COVID-19, when it comes to unprecedented diffusion of disinformation registered during the pandemic.

“While disinformation does not affect the rule of law per se, the lack of guarantees for media freedom and independence is a clear symptom of the rule of law breaching, as it perpetuates an uncontrolled circulation of disinformation with negative effects on the democratic political system,” the authors wrote.

When it comes to EU Member States but also Western Balkan countries, the authors underlined, that it is important for the EU to set the bar high and make governments act in compliance with its fundamental values.

Policy Brief recalled that the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation introduced in December 2020 by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union is the first step towards a more credible Union, and will certainly allow the EU to tackle different violations of citizens’ rights such as the limitation of media freedom in many European countries.

When it comes to enlargement, the strengthening of the rule of law is the cornerstone of the EU Western Balkans Strategy 2018 and of the new accession talks framework (new methodology) of 2020, the authors reminded.

“Yet, precisely because of the democratic backsliding registered in Hungary and in Poland, the EU is putting so much more emphasis on the rule of law when it comes to its enlargement policy,” the Policy Brief said.

Freedom of the media – a perfect indicator of the functioning of democracy

According to a Policy Brief, freedom of the media is a fundamental tool to counter disinformation and the diffusion of fake news due to the fact that the more freedom of media is guaranteed, the less disinformation becomes a powerful weapon to disrupt the traditional policy-making process.

The authors said that disinformation campaigns both in the EU as well as in the Western Balkans have been linked to the third countries, such as Russia and China.

“For instance, in the Western Balkans, as highlighted by Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders in 2021, Serbia’s status changed from “free” to “partly free” due to constant attempts by the Serbian government to jeopardize independent journalists through legal harassment and smear campaigns. The attack on investigative journalism is of particular concern; journalists working for investigative portals experience threats, intimidations, and inflammatory rhetoric increasingly coming from governmental actors, often unanswered by authorities. Similarly, in Kosovo some media have banned their reporters from publishing investigative reports that are critical of the government or not aligned with the political narratives of the government”, said Policy Brief.

The authors underlined that toxic media environments are mostly a symptom of weak rule of law standards, rather than the cause.

“Indeed, in the case of Hungary and Poland, where the rule of law has been put under stress, data on media freedom are negative and have gradually worsened over the past years; both countries ’governments are censoring journalists or accusing independent or private media outlet to spread fake news,” it was said in the Policy Brief.

The authors concluded that against this backdrop, the Conditionality Regulation introduced in 2020, which links EU funding to the respect of rule of law, might be an effective deterrent.

The Policy Brief is published in the framework of the WB2EU project. The project aims at the establishment of a network of renowned think-tanks, do-tanks, universities, higher education institutes and policy centres from the Western Balkans, neighbouring countries and EU member states that will be most decisive for the enlargement process and Europeanisation of the region in the upcoming years. The WB2EU project is co-funded by the European Commission under its Erasmus+ Jean Monnet programme.

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