In their evaluation of the European Commission’s latest rule of law report, MEPs said the country-specific recommendations and the focus on specific problem areas were welcome improvements. However, they called for improvements in the Commission’s methodology and listed specific concerns in all EU countries.
On Monday, the EU Parliament’s Civil Liberties. Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) adopted its draft resolution on the European Commission’s 2022 Annual Rule of Law Report with 46 votes in favour, seven against and no abstentions.
In their assessment, MEPs welcomed the Commission’s attention to areas such as public service media and transparency of media ownership. However, they underlined worrying trends in press freedom, media pluralism and the safety of journalists in several Member States.
The draft resolution stressed that journalists would remain at risk as long as institutions fail to prosecute corruption cases exposed in the media.
Published last July, the EU Commission’s annual rule of law report on Malta listed how the lack of convictions in high-profile corruption cases, denied access to official documents, and the lack of independence of public service media are still major issues.
When tackling public service media, the Commission maintained that the sector is “particularly vulnerable to political influence” given those members of both the board of directors and the editorial board are appointed directly by the State.
The report also noted that the number of judges per inhabitant in Malta “remains one of the lowest in the EU”, with the Association of Judges and Magistrates in Malta expressing concern about the lack of resources and adequately trained clerks.
Because of this lack of human and material resources, “the efficiency of the Maltese judiciary has continued to deteriorate”. This, combined with the time taken by law enforcement agencies such as the police and the Attorney General’s Office to complete investigations, poses a serious threat to the outcome of cases in Malta, the report said.
The report also addressed the lack of concrete action to implement the recommendations of the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The European Commission listed six major recommendations for the Maltese government’s consideration, with the Commission further advising Malta to involve the judiciary in the appointment of the chief justice, reduce the length of judicial proceedings and restart efforts to establish a National Human Rights Institution.
However, in the draft resolution adopted, MEPs note that the country-specific recommendations by the Commission are too vague and lack the specificity needed to ensure effective implementation, stressing the need to set a clear timetable for the implementation of the recommendations and to specify the possible consequences of non-compliance by a Member State.
The draft resolution also recognises the crucial role of civil society in upholding and protecting the rule of law and calls on the Commission to devote a separate chapter to the situation of civil society in the Member States.
MEPs conclude by reiterating the need to set up a panel of independent experts to advise EU institutions in cooperation with the Fundamental Rights Agency.
The MEPs are right because recommendations by the European Commission don’t have the power to force governments to implement them. Like examples in Poland, Hungary and Malta have shown for years, such governments like these are always prolonging the implementation and thus doing nothing at all. They see it as a means to curb their power and reign them in.
There has to be a time table for implementation and there has to be pressure on these governments because they don’t do anything without it. In the end, the EU has been left with the last resort to force these governments into comply with the rules by imposing sanctions on them. But such proceedings also take time and meanwhile, the situation for the journalists and thus the media as a whole in those countries remains unchanged or even gets worse.