Exchange of views on the Venice Commission’s “Rule of Law Checklist”

It is my honour and pleasure, as the Foreign Minister of Estonia and the Chair of the Committee of Ministers, to participate in today’s exchange of views on the Venice Commission’s Rule of Law Checklist, a brand new assessment tool which is soon to be endorsed by the Committee of Ministers.
Needless to say, Estonia holds the Council of Europe – as an organisation for creating norms and standards – in high regard. It has considerably influenced our country’s legislation since our accession in 1993. As a lawyer, a civil servant and a diplomat, I have been actively involved in bringing my country from the end of soviet rule and the restoration of our independence in 1991 – effectively, from nothing – to a well-functioning, law based democracy. It has been a demanding yet highly rewarding journey.  Looking back, I can say that it would have been helpful to have something as clear and user-friendly as the Rule of Law Checklist at our disposal.

The principles of human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and the advancement of international law are valued as an important part of Estonian foreign policy. The connection between the health of a country’s democracy and its track record in honouring international law is crystal clear. As a rule, democracies do not trade in wars. Respect for the system of international conventions is the foundation of lasting peace. It was the impulse behind the creation of the Council of Europe, and is the main security guarantee for both large and small states. Preventing the erosion of the rule of law in our countries is our highest responsibility, especially at difficult times of crisis, when mushrooming populist forces try to coerce us into bending our principles.

Such pressure is well known in the EU countries, too.  We may assert, that in the EU we have all the necessary means in place to keep our house tidy. Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) states that (beginning of quote) “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail”. (end of quote). Article 7 of the TEU establishes a rigorous mechanism in case these values are at risk in any member state. Before activation of the strict processes of Article 7, there are several steps involving analysis, advice and dialogue between the member state in question and the EU Commission, aimed at finding a solution. While the treaty mechanism can be viewed as a remedy, including a bitter pill, the Rule of Law Checklist is more like a health check. It is a tool for prevention. The two, article 7 of the TEU and the checklist, complement each other.

I am very pleased to be invited to the launch of the Rule of Law Checklist, which the Venice Commission created at the request of, and for the benefit of, all Council of Europe members. We could, of course, be more ambitious and offer it up for global use – as a gift from the Council of Europe to any nation wishing to take their temperature vis-à-vis the rule of law. However, before doing so, we should first take a look at it, approve it, and adopt it for our own use.

Far from being confined to a discussion among specialists, the rule of law has become a subject of wide political discussion. It is therefore essential to fully understand it. The Checklist is designed to enable the objective, thorough, transparent and standard-based self-assessment of the Rule of law in any country. It is a tool at the disposal of various actors, including parliaments and other State authorities, civil societies, and international organisations. It is a practical tool, focusing on public power and the prevention of its abuse, but also stressing the importance of compliance with the principles of the Rule of Law when public functions are outsourced to private actors. It is an inspiring tool to take home and try out.

Ladies and Gentelmen,

I wish you a successful Committee meeting and a fruitful Parliamentary Assembly session. I hope also to see you in few hours in the Hemicycle where I will give you an overview of the activities of the Committee of Ministers. Meanwhile, however, you will be able to hear more detailed presentations of the Checklist.

Parliamentary Assembly, Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Meeting of 21 June 2016

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