The rule of law in Greece is “in the danger zone”, warned lawmakers in the European Parliament as they expressed concerns about backsliding on democracy and the EU’s political values across the bloc.
“Rule of law has been reduced to tribal mudslinging between the political groups,” said Sophie In ’t Veld, Dutch liberal MEP, during a debate on Thursday (30 March) in the European Parliament on the latest annual report on the rule of law by the European Commission.
“The rule of law in Greece is in the danger zone,” added In ’t Veld, who led the Parliament’s delegation to Greece, pointing to ‘state capture’ of a series of institutions including the police force.
Following a delegation from the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee in February, MEPs expressed concerns about Greece being on the edge, given the poor media reporting, threats against journalists, and severe shortcomings in the judicial sector.
The most significant battles between the EU and national governments over alleged rule of law breaches have been with Hungary and Poland over judicial independence and media and civil society freedoms, resulting in tens of billions of euros in EU funding being withheld from the two countries and ongoing legal proceedings before the European Court of Justice.
Last month, the Polish parliament adopted legislation that seeks to meet a series of “milestones” set out by the European Commission to release €36 billion in grants and loans from its pandemic recovery fund.
However, other countries including Malta have also been in the spotlight. In the case of Malta, political corruption and the lengthy investigations and trials related to the assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia were highlighted, alongside the overall political culture of the country.
Concerns were also voiced that the debate about the rule of law across the EU has broken down along party lines in the European Parliament. The main governing parties in Spain and Malta are part of the Socialist and Democrat group, while the government in Greece is affiliated with the European People’s Party (EPP).
Earlier this week, Manfred Weber, the leader of the EPP, described Greece’s case as ‘a national matter’ while Spanish MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar, who chairs the Civil Liberties committee, dismissed the criticism of Spain’s judiciary as being politically driven by the EPP-affiliated opposition.
In the case of Spain, MEPs discussed judicial independence, legal reforms, and the deadlock in appointing members to the national council of the judiciary.
“Despite several reforms there has been no change in the political culture,” said In’t Veld of Malta.
Věra Jourová, the EU Commissioner responsible for rule of law, told MEPs on Thursday that the “efficiency of justice and length of proceedings have deteriorated”, in Malta, adding that “investigation of high-level corruption cases remains lengthy”.
The Commissioner reported problems with judicial appointments in Spain, as well as “lengthy and complex” proceedings in corruption cases.
Meanwhile, concerns were raised about judicial independence in Greece, as well as an increasing number of attacks and threats against journalists.
“Freezing money is not an end in itself,” added Green MEP Daniel Freund, pointing out that around €140 billion in EU funding was withheld in 2022 because of the Parliament’s objections on rule of law concerns.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]