EU Values Are Law, after All: Enforcing EU Values through Systemic Infringement Actions by the European Commission and the Member States of the European Union

Kim Lane Scheppele, Dimitry Vladimirovich Kochenov, Barbara Grabowska-Moroz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Although compliance with the founding values is presumed in its law, the Union is now confronted with persistent disregard of these values in two Member States. If it ceases to be a union of Rule-of-Law-abiding democracies, the European Union (EU) is unthinkable. Purely political mechanisms to safeguard the Rule of Law, such as those in Article 7 Treaty of European Union (TEU), do not work. Worse still, their existence has disguised the fact that the violations of the values of Article 2 TEU are also violations of EU law. The legal mechanisms tried thus far, however, do not work either. The fundamental jurisprudence on judicial independence and irremovability under Article 19(1) TEU is a good start, but it has been unable to change the situation on the ground. Despite ten years of EU attempts at reining in Rule of Law violations and even as backsliding Member States have lost cases at the Court of Justice, illiberal regimes inside the EU have become more consolidated: the EU has been losing through winning. More creative work is needed to find ways to enforce the values of Article 2 TEU more effectively. Taking this insight, we propose to turn the EU into a militant democracy, able to defend its basic principles, by using the traditional tools for the enforcement of EU law in a novel manner. We demonstrate how the familiar infringement actions - both under Article 258 and 259 TFEU - can be adapted as instruments for enforcing EU values by bundling a set of specific violations into a single general infringement action to show how a pattern of unlawful activity rises to the level of being a systemic violation. A systemic violation, because of its general and pervasive nature, in itself threatens basic values above and beyond violations of individual provisions of the acquis. Certified by the Court of Justice, a systemic violation of EU law should call for systemic compliance that would require the Member State to undo the effects of its attacks on the values of Article 2. The use of Article 260 Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) to deduct fines from EU funds due to be received by the troubled Member State would provide additional incentives for systemic compliance. We illustrate this proposed militant democratic structure by explaining and critiquing what the Commission and Court together have done to reign in the governments of Hungary and Poland so far and then showing how they can do better.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-121
Number of pages119
JournalYearbook of European Law
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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