CLEER WP 2012/3 - Pech

Rule of law as a guiding principle of the European Union's external action

Laurent Pech

This paper aims to offer a comprehensive overview of how the EU promotes the rule of law abroad and to discuss the EU’s normative effectiveness as an ‘exporter’ of values and principles. A brief exposé of the EU’s constitutional framework is first offered to show that the rule of law must be viewed as a constitutional principle of a foundational nature that the EU is committed to promote in its relations with the wider world. The instruments by which the EU promotes the rule of law abroad will then be reviewed. It is argued that the EU, when acting as an exporter of values, tends to pay little attention to conceptual issues and largely equates the rule of law with a soft ideal whose content is largely delineated on a case-by-case basis. It is contended, however, that the EU is not exporting a vague or incoherent ideal. On the contrary, the EU clearly promotes a broad and substantive understanding of the rule of law and its legislative and policy instruments all defend the view that the rule of law alongside democracy and respect for human rights must be understood as a set of intertwined and mutually reinforcing principles. It logically follows that while EU instruments may offer different definitions and pursue too many distinct objectives, they nevertheless demonstrate that the EU’s understanding of the rule of law goes beyond the so-called formal or thin approach. In the final part of this paper, the EU’s role as an exporter of values and principles will be examined from two angles: the normative impact of EU rule of law policies and actions at the international level and their effectiveness. Two main points will be made. Firstly, as an international standard-setter, the EU cannot claim great successes but this can be directly linked to an apparent lack of interest in conceptualisation issues and the fact that the EU promotes a conception that is largely consensual amongst the foremost international organisations. Secondly, the EU should consider taking into account the multiple indexes, checklists and other indicators which have been developed to measure and monitor countries’ adherence to the rule of law in order to better identify shortcomings, suggest appropriate reforms and track progress (or lack thereof) in a less impressionistic and uncoordinated manner than is currently the case.

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CLEER WP 2012/3 - Pech