Protecting democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights in the European Union: comparing rationalist and constructivist explanations



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Tartu Ülikool


The European Union (EU) shares a set of common values of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. They are enshrined in the Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and are protected by the Article 7 of the TEU. While there are many sanctioning options for the potential member states before accession into the EU, it becomes very difficult once a state has become a member of the EU. In order to trigger the article 7, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council need to agree to this solution. Even tough there have been breaches to the common values, the sanctioning mechanism has never been used. The aim of this thesis is to understand the reaction and action of the European Union towards these breach cases. There is a potential for the application of the Article 7 in two current situations, namely in Hungary and Poland. The research questions are, is it possible to make sense of the European Union and member states reactions to the breach of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights through a constructivist or a rationalist lens? Is there a variance between institutions and key member states, according to which factors? The research was conducted using the arguments of European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council and the three biggest member states. Their arguments towards the possible breach cases were analysed using qualitative content analysis applying the two theoretical frameworks, rationalism and constructivism. The results of the analysis show that both theoretical approaches were relevant and used by all member states but also by the institutions, therefore they should not be seen as separate, but as complimentary theoretical approaches.