Relaxation of rule of law in Europe ‘dangerous tendency’
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Relaxation of rule of law in Europe ‘dangerous tendency’

Essential for Council of Europe to retain authority in defence of values

Andrius Kubilius: “The Council of Europe had no proper legal or institutional framework.” Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Andrius Kubilius: “The Council of Europe had no proper legal or institutional framework.” Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

The relaxation of the rule of law, especially among European Union newcomers, could become a dangerous tendency, Andrius Kubilius, who is running to be the next secretary general of the Council of Europe, has warned.

The Council of Europe, founded in 1949, is an international organisation aimed at upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. It has 47 members.

Last year, the Council of Europe’s rule of law experts – or the Venice Commission – said Malta needed better checks and balances to ensure a proper rule of law system on the island.

Mr Kubilius, a former Lithuanian Prime Minister, said during a brief visit to the island he was still getting familiar with the rule of law situation in the various member states, however, he called on all governments to carefully heed the commission’s advice and implement recommendations.

“When looking into rule of law and democracy issues I’ve noticed that the relaxation of standards, especially among EU newcomers, can become quite a dangerous tendency,” he remarked.

Mr Kubilius added he was optimistic about the current discussion within the EU in creating some link between structural assistance and rule of law values in each country. If a country failed in implementing rule of law standards, then it could have problems getting access to structural assistance, he continued.

There had to be some kind of early warning system that raised the alarm about increasing populism in member states

Since the announcement of his candidature, the issue of a “crisis” featured in conversations Mr Kubilius had with European ambassadors.

“I joked that since I faced two economic crises during my tenures as prime minister in Lithuania [1999 to 2000 and 2008 to 2012], I am fit for the job,” he said.

Mr Kubilius referred to a “situational crisis” the Council of Europe was dealing with following the suspension of the Russian delegation’s voting rights as a consequence of Crimea’s annexation, followed by Russia’s decision to stop contributing to the CoE’s budget.

He said that while, on one hand, it was important to have the Russian delegation on board, on the other hand it was also essential for the CoE to retain authority in defence of its values.

Hailing from Lithuania, he believes he could help the Russia-sceptics and the Russians reach some middle ground.

Another challenge the organisation was facing was a deficit of proper understanding of a long-term plan when it came to democracy, he said.

While democracy in Europe was being increasingly challenged by the rise of populism and radicalism, the CoE had no proper legal or institutional framework, he pointed out. There had to be some kind of early warning system that raised the alarm about increasing populism in member states, Mr Kubilius added.

He was asked about abortion rights in Malta, following comments by Nils Muižnieks, who served as the CoE’s commissioner for human rights from 2012 to 2018, that the island’s ban on abortion contradicted the norms of international human rights law.

The ban denied women a range of fundamental human rights and the Maltese authorities should remedy this situation, he had said.

Mr Kubilius noted that, while a total liberal approach was not acceptable, from a human point of view it was no easy situation for women.

“We need to look at the issue from the point of view of the women considering abortion and show sympathy if they are suffering,” he said.

Acknowledging he was not familiar with Maltese regulations, he proposed taking a look at the Lithuanian example. There, he said, abortion was legal until the 12th week of pregnancy and up to 22 weeks for medical reasons.

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