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Follow-up: Rule of Law in the European Union

03.03.2021

It has been a month and a half since our annual Open Society Forum, this year titled "Rule of Law in the European Union: Liberty of the Many, Duty of the Few?" took place.

Meanwhile, disturbing developments have taken place in Poland regarding restricting media freedom by planning a new "media advertising tax" law, making the country possibly the next Hungary - an EU member state that has managed to cripple almost all independent media. On February 10, about 45 private media outlets went off the air in Poland, running blank pages for 24h in protest against the aforementioned law. Reporting Democracy has provided  insight and Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) has published a report Democracy Declining: Erosion of Media Freedom in Poland. Although the government has taken a step back since the protest, there will be steps taken towards the law nevertheless.

The situation is sour in Slovenia which will take on the rotating EU Presindecy in July, and where Prime Minister Janes Janza attacked journalists reporting on the deterioration of rule of law in his country.

In the light of such news: if you did not have the chance to watch the Forum on the rule of law, we urge you to do so as the issue is burning in some EU member states under our very own eyes. The Forum was organized in joint cooperation between the Open Estonia  Foundation and European Commission Representation in Estonia.

The keynote was held by Věra Jourová, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency. The discussion panel included Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former President of Estonia 2006–2016; Kristi Raik, Director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute at the International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS), Open Estonia Foundation board member and Katrin Nyman-Metcalf, adjunct professor at TalTech Department of Law and Chair of Supervisory Council of Estonian Human Rights.

We've also uploaded the welcome words and a brief introduction by the founder of Open Society Foundations, philantropist George Soros.

"Democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights are the three pillars forming the bedrock of the European Union. This trio constitutes our core values. All three pillars need to operate in perfect harmony. They cannot exist without one another, even less used against one another. They are the basis for everything else in the EU. That is why we need to protect them. We need institutions that guarantee the separation of powers; institutions that provide checks and balances and keep each other under control. We need independent media that holds those in power accountable."– Věra Jourová, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency

"The European Union’s tepid response to the transgressions of Orban in Hungary and Kaczyński in Poland is troubling. The EU can’t afford to compromise on the rule-of-law provisions." – George Soros, philantropist and founder of the Open Society Foundations

"Civil society plays a crucial role and has played it in the history of Europe through various revolutions. However, I've seen a dangerous tendency towards GONGOism while genuine CSOs might barely have anything." – Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia 2006-2016

"When the European Union tackles the rule of law issue, it tends to do it in a technical manner. /../  Especially when we first observed problems with the court system in Poland./.../ The way it was presented in the public debate in many European countries really gave an impression that this was some kind of quarrel between Poland and the Commission." – Kristi Raik, Director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute at ICDS

"Everybody has something that they rather would not have others criticize. And you feel that if you start criticizing others, they would quickly point out what you are doing wrong. /../ Unfortunately, because of the erosion of the rule of law and respect on human rights, it has unfortunately been going on in many European countries and there tend to be more countries that think like this. It's not like we have Hungary and Poland and everybody else is wonderful." – Katrin Nyman-Metcalf, adjunct professor at TalTech Department of Law and Chair of Supervisory Council of Estonian Human Rights


The foundation works to help develop open society in Estonia and other countries