In an effort to beef up the EU’s defences against governments of member states flouting its key principles, Belgium and Germany have proposed that EU member states should be given the powers to scrutinise each other’s democratic track record.
Germany and Belgium reasoned that their proposal would create space for member states to flag rule-of-law concerns early on rather than wait till problems escalate.
The proposal, made at a meeting of EU ministers, coincides with high-profile EU investigations against Poland and Hungary for undermining the independence of their courts and media, while Romania is accused of rolling back on anti-graft reforms.
Acknowledging the hurdles their proposal is likely to face, Germany and Belgium suggested the new screening procedure would only be voluntary and carry no sanction.
On the presentation of the proposal, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said he hoped the new mechanism would be fleshed out by the end of the year and was promptly backed by the Netherlands.
The health and resilience of EU democracies are in focus ahead of European Parliament elections in May, in which pro-EU parties face off against euro sceptics who promote nationalist and populist policies that at times go against the liberal democratic values of the bloc.
The EU’s main centre-right group, the European People’s Party, is due to decide on Wednesday whether to expel the Fidesz party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban over his anti-EU, anti-immigration campaigns.