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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR)

Rule of Law

Rule of Law

The EU is based on the rule of law: every action taken by it is founded on treaties approved voluntarily and democratically by all EU member countries.

All new countries joining the EU must also respect the rights and obligations enshrined in:

Accession process

Key requirements for EU membership, including the rule of law, are set out in the so-called Copenhagen criteria.

Two specific negotiating chapters are meant to assist enlargement countries to establish a society based on the rule of law:

  • Chapter 23 - Judiciary and Fundamental Rights
  • Chapter 24 - Justice, Freedom and Security

Negotiations cover a wide variety of aspects of justice, internal security, fundamental rights and the fight against corruption and organised crime.

Obligations for candidate countries

Countries that want to join the EU have to make sure that:

  • their judiciary is independent and impartial. This includes, for example, guaranteed access to justice, fair trial procedures, adequate funding for courts and training for magistrates and legal practitioners.
  • their government and its officials and agents are accountable under the law and that political leaders and decision-makers take a clear stance against corruption.
  • the process by which laws are prepared, approved and enforced is transparent, efficient, and fair. Laws must be clear, publicised, stable, fair, and protect fundamental rights.

Benefits for all

When countries respect the rule of law, their citizens, businesses, state institutions and the economy as a whole are protected from crime (including cyber-crime). This means that the law enforcement services must be adequately trained and equipped to enforce the law, as regards both fundamental rights and data protection rules.

Explicit protection is also needed for vulnerable people - the victims of crime, people belonging to minorities or fleeing persecution or serious harm in their own country and therefore in need of international protection.

To learn more

Every year the European Commission gives an overview of how the rule of law is implemented by the aspiring countries. For more details see our latest strategy paper and country progress reports.