Book Review: Reinforcing Rule of Law Oversight in the European Union

Pola Cebulak

The challenges to the rule of law in the European Union (EU) keep multiplying. Current debates relate mostly to the right‐wing populist governments in Austria, Hungary or Poland. However, rule of law can also be relevant in instances of emergencies and crises relating to humanitarian visas, the EU‐Turkey Deal or austerity measures.

The present edited volume brings together excellent contributions from established scholars presenting an array of legally and politically plausible proposals to strengthen oversight and enforcement of the rule of law in the EU. They include inter alia analysis of the innovative usage of infringement proceedings to enforce Art. 2 TEU (Hillion, Scheppele); the Court of Justice of the EU creatively reinterpreting the scope of its human rights jurisdiction (Jakab); ‘naming and shaming’ through indicators or peer review (Ballin, Toggenburg and Grimheden, Scheinin), or establishing an expert body to monitor the Copenhagen Criteria (Müller, Tuori).

The desirability of reinforcing democracy and rule of law in the EU is postulated on a functional rather than normative basis – efficient enforcement of adherence to EU rules is a precondition for mutual trust which, in turn, is crucial for the functioning of the EU legal order, in particular the internal market or the Area of Freedom Security and Justice. Only the last part of the volume provides the conceptual and theoretical underpinnings for the proposed pragmatic solutions. By problematizing the multiplicity of understandings of the rule of law and the inadequacy of the thin, ‘impoverished’ (p. 307) or formalistic understanding, the contributions highlight the systemic and normative implications of the ‘rule of law crisis’ (p. 46) in the EU. An emphasis on autonomy or the internal market as the institutional ideal of the EU's legal order might immunize it and de facto undermine the rule of law, human rights and constitutional values in the EU (Kochenov). European integration faces the challenge of ‘deviating democracies’ (p. 266), which needs to be stonewalled not only with rights and legal institutions, but also by value‐based opposition through social and informal channels (Blokker). Most contributions fence out the questions of democracy in the EU as relating to the power of the sovereign rather than legality. Yet, the Epilogue warns about framing rule of law as a ‘check on democratic majoritarian decisions’ (p. 314), because it results in a false opposition, where one of the substantive values is prioritized at the cost of another (Weiler).

Even though this comprehensive ‘cookbook’ lacks a ‘suggested menu’ (p. xii), it represents a coherent voice in the academic debate about the rule of law in the EU. The contributions share the same normative outlook and are tightly woven together by reciprocal references. As a result, however, other voices are discussed, but not represented in the volume.

Link: here

This project receives funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No 722826.