The work of the Meijers Committee
The Meijers Committee is an independent standing committee of legal experts that provides technical-legal commentary on EU policy documents and legislative proposals. For over 25 years, the Meijers Committee has made an important contribution to the protection of the rule of law and fundamental human rights within the European Union through the publication of policy papers and comments.
The most important guidelines for the Meijers Committee in this respect are the central values of the democratic constitutional state: public access to decision-making, parliamentary control and control over legislation, control by an independent judge of the correct application of legislation and the protection of fundamental human rights. The opinions of the Meijers Committee are addressed in particular to Members of the European Parliament, the Dutch Parliament, and indirectly to the European Council. The Committee’s working method is unique in Europe.
You can find out more about our history, members and activities on the website of the Meijers Committee.
Challenges to the rule of law in the European Union
The problems that Europe are facing are complex. To overcome them, the EU needs confidence in the value of European unity, cooperation and solidarity. And it needs legislation that puts the democratic basis of that cooperation – the rule of law – above all else. However, the combination of major global challenges and the continuing lack of confidence in politics to deal with these problems is eroding the support for the European Union. Not only among citizens, but also in national parliaments, among civil servants and politicians, it is no longer obvious that the fundamental legal principles of the rule of law and civil rights are the basis for shaping Europe.
Under these circumstances, the Meijers Committee sees a number of challenges ahead. Our mission is to safeguard European legislation that does justice to the principles of the rule of law and guarantees fundamental human rights for all who reside in Europe. We are committed to making lawyers, civil servants and politicians aware of the need to guard the rule of law and human rights in European legislation. Our goal is to identify deficiencies and to draw the attention of legislators and supervisors (in Brussels and at the level of the national states) to the legal deficiencies and risks involved. Furthermore, the Meijers Committee supports other critical proponents of the democratic system, such as journalists and fundamental rights NGOs, through evidence-based legal analyses.
Our new project: Safeguarding the Rule of Law in the European Union
In the coming years, the Meijers Committee sees particular risks in the establishment of new EU agencies in changes to the competences or structure of existing agencies. A reason for concern is, for example, the lack of clarity in the control of the exercise of powers by these agencies and the legal position of citizens vis-à-vis these institutions. Many improvements to the legal structure of these institutions are needed to ensure their accountability and transparency.
In addition, the Meijers Committee is worried by the EU’s insufficient reaction to developments that affect the rule of law, for example in Poland or Hungary. One current example is the attacks on the independence of the judiciary in Poland. Although the EU has various means at its disposal to take legal action against this, their use is limited. Where they are used, they appear to be ineffective. The gradual dismantling of fundamental achievements that can be seen in some Member States in relation to the rule of law situation is a cause of great concern to the Meijers Committee.
It is of great importance to actively monitor the activities of the European Union at this very moment. For these reasons, the Meijers Committee will work on two important issues where the European rule of law and the fundamental rights of EU citizens are at risk: EU agencies and the Rule of Law. The Meijers Committee will critically comment on these subjects and continuously bring them to the attention of (European and national) parliamentarians, the European Commission and the Council of the European Union.
The agencies in the field of asylum and migration, but also in the field of criminal law cooperation, have been given increasing competences over the last decade. In the area of criminal justice, these include the agencies OLAF (European Anti-Fraud Office), Europol, Eurojust and the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO, to become operational in 2021). In the field of asylum, there is the European Asylum Agency and the European Border and Coast Guard (formerly FRONTEX). There is a lack of clarity regarding the competences of – and the responsibility for – these agencies. It should be transparent how these institutions work, which decisions are made and how, and how supervision and control are exercised by elected representatives. Currently, this is not sufficiently the case. At several agencies there are doubts about the control and supervision by parliaments, the protection of fundamental rights and the accessibility of complaint procedures.
To illustrate this last point, there is a great deal of confusion as to what legal remedies are available to citizens when they wish to file a complaint against EU agencies, for example in the context of a criminal prosecution (under the responsibility of the EPPO) or in the context of data collection and use (by, for example, Frontex). In many cases, it is simply not clear to which judicial forum in which Member State the citizen can or must turn. Recent rules on the mutual communication between the many information systems that EU agencies also work with (such as the Schengen Information System, the Visa Information System, Eurodac, ECRIS, etc.) have only increased this concern.
Most agencies also have access to large-scale databases and their functioning therefore also concerns data protection. For example, storing data of asylum seekers entering Europe (Eurodac), storing data of criminal convictions of non-EU citizens (ECRIS-TCN) or storing data of people applying for visas and their family members. These databases have been set up to serve different purposes. In order to prevent abuse and guarantee the rights of (non-EU and EU) citizens, it is important to define who has access to the information collected and for what reasons.
The rule of law situation in the European Union
In recent years, a number of worrying developments have been observed in several European Member States, such as Poland, Hungary, Malta and Romania, with regard to the rule of law. Most noteworthy is the situation in Poland, where legislative changes have greatly increased the political influence on judicial appointments, with the result that judicial independence is no longer guaranteed. The ruling party is also responsible for the fact that the Polish Constitutional Court no longer has the power to monitor the government.
The erosion of the rule of law means, on the one hand, that the legal protection of citizens in these specific countries is at risk, and on the other, it puts the entire EU under pressure because trust in equal principles – the basis on which European cooperation rests – is being undermined. This is most visible in the context of cooperation in criminal matters, where the extradition of suspects to Poland is now frequently postponed or even refused because of justified doubts about the independence of Polish courts. Therefore, it is of great importance to put this process on the agenda, to alert politicians and to provide both political and non-political actors with legal tools and arguments to tackle the deterioration of the rule of law.