Should Hungary and Poland be EU Member States?: CELS Webinar

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  • Cambridge Law Faculty published this video item, entitled “Should Hungary and Poland be EU Member States?: CELS Webinar” – below is their description.

    Speaker: Professor Gráinne de Búrca, NYU Law Faculty

    Biography: Gráinne de Búrca is Florence Ellinwood Allen Professor of Law at NYU. She is also Director of the Hauser Global Law School and Co-director of the Jean Monnet Center at NYU. Her fields of research and expertise include European Union law and human rights law, and she is co-author with Paul Craig of the OUP textbook EU Law, currently in its 7th edition, and author of the book Reframing Human Rights in a Turbulent Era (OUP, 2021). She is co-editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Constitutional Law (I•CON) and serves on the editorial boards of the American Journal of International Law, Global Constitutionalism and Legal Studies. She is a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.

    Abstract: The EU’s Copenhagen criteria for accession specifies that in order to join the EU, states must be committed to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Article 2 TEU articulates this as an ongoing commitment on which the EU is founded and declare that its member states hold these values in common. Nevertheless, the systems of government in Poland and Hungary in recent years have moved far from the democratic end of the political spectrum towards the authoritarian end. Still firmly EU Member States with all the privileges of membership, they are not the only Member States engaged in significant ‘democratic backsliding’, as can be seen from the rising illiberalism in Slovenia or the extent of corruption and rule-of-law weakness in Malta, Romania or Bulgaria, for example. While extensive scholarly attention has focused on the inadequacy of the EU’s tools for addressing democratic decay, and the lack of adequate action taken so far, some deeper and more existential questions are raised by the dramatic decline in democratic standards within EU member states. Since Poland and Hungary would not qualify for membership at present if they were not already states, why do they remain members? Is it the inadequacies of the legal and political tools which were provided, and ultimately lack of a formal expulsion mechanism? Or is there a political explanation in the preference for maintaining authoritarian regimes within the EU in the hope of reforming them gradually through the influence of membership? Or more fundamentally, does the reluctance to take action against these states and the continued support for their full membership suggest that the values proclaimed as foundational in Article 2 are in reality symbolic, a form of signalling or even window-dressing rather than a genuine commitment to democracy and the rule of law in the European Union? This paper will question what the deeper significance is of the toleration of authoritarian systems as EU member states, and what it means for the European Union’s present and its future, and for its relationship to democracy.

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