6 November 2018, Brussels, Belgium: European Justice Stakeholders Forum

On 6 November 2018, Mr Arno Metzler, President Group III, EESC, hosted the third annual plenary of the European Justice Stakeholders Forum on the theme: Upholding the EU values in Article 2 TEU. President Metzler insisted on the importance of equality before the law and protection. Indeed, protection is sometimes not adequate. That is why Group III has launched a campaign against populism.

Ms Heidi Hautala, Vice-President of the European Parliament, gave a keynote speech stating that transparency and accountability are key to the rule of law and supporting values. These requirements should apply to Member States but also to Members of the European Parliament. Vice-President Hautala also called for greater harmonization of legal training across the EU, protection for whistleblowers and human rights, and for lawyers and citizens to promote and act on European values in their own lives.

Mr Emmanuel Crabit, Director of Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law at the European Commission took the floor to remind the audience that the European Commission recently initiated infringement proceedings against Poland and Hungary, insisting on the need for effective judicial protection and independent courts in Europe.

Mr Crabit also presented the European Commission’s Electoral Packages that was launched in September 2018 in order to secure free and fair European elections. He mentioned the Commission’s determination in implementing the European Charter of Fundamental Rights more effectively and its will to further strengthen the 2014 Framework on the Rule of Law.

Mr Gabriel Toggenberg, representing the Fundamental Rights Agency, raised the issue of the actual respect for European values considering the serious threats they currently face and the questions raised by the recent infringement proceedings.

EESC Member Mr Moreno-Diaz presented the recently created EESC Study Group on Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law, which he chairs. Their aim is to create an early warning system based on a network of civil society organisations in order to help protect the rule of law and fundamental rights.

Ms Monique van der Goes, from the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary called for judges to be more visible and to communicate more so that the public can better understand what they do and why.

Mr Philippe Buisseret, Secretary General of the CCBE agreed on the importance of communication, particularly on the subject of independence.

EUR President Vivien Whyte gave a speech in which he insisted on the importance of Rechtspfleger and other non-judge staff who have close contacts with citizens and, as such, are key to increasing confidence in the judicial system. In thirteen European Union Member States, Rechtspfleger or similar professionals can take legal decisions, thus reducing the workload of courts and making judicial systems more efficient for citizens. Expanded use of such a model could enhance confidence in the rule of law. He expressed his wish that the European Union shared information on what non-judge staff do, for example by including them in the European Justice Scoreboard.

Ms Natacha Kazatchkine of the Open Society European Policy Institute insisted on the need for respect for Human Rights and particularly for freedom of spech. She suggested that the European Commission delegates one of their Vice-Presidents to ensure the protection of civic space.After discussions with the audience, President Metlzer closed the meeting calling on all to défend the European social model and the rule of law.