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Key Concerns and Contributions to the EC Rule of Law Report

14 February 2023

From all corners of the European Union, we are witnessing a backsliding of the rule of law. We see this in the Netherlands as well, where we have dropped significantly in rating on the World Press Freedom Index for example, from six to 28. This coupled with for instance, restrictions on the right to protests – as seen during the reaction to the Extinction Rebellion protests – are worrying signals. We cannot let this backsliding continue to happen and all of us together can take the lead in turning the tide. Kirsten Meijer, Executive Director of the NHC

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee has been reporting, monitoring and strengthening the rule of law across wider Europe since the organisation’s inception. The past three years we have also contributed to the European Commission’s annual reports on the state of the rule of law in the European Union, together with other Dutch civil society organisations. This year, the report was written together with Transparency International Nederland and Free Press Unlimited.

2022 has seen a number of developments, please see below for an overview of our key findings:

Our Key Concerns

In the area of justice, steps have been taken to strengthen judicial integrity, particularly regarding possible conflicts of interests. The government reacted to protests from judges by substantially increasing the budget for the judiciary to improve the general efficiency and tackle the systemic under funding of the justice system.

With regard to corruption, the Netherlands received its lowest score ever on the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index. This strongly correlates with weak rules and enforcement in the field of political integrity. The government proposed a cooling-off period for members of the government, but failed to make it mandatory and include adequate sanctions. To improve transparency, the government started publishing the agendas of public officials; however, a lobby register is still missing. The government continues to neglect whistle-blower protection, remains opaque in its public procurement practices, and still shows weaknesses in its enforcement capacities.

Whilst the media environment continues to enjoy a good level of independence, concerns remain about its future. The media landscape is still characterised by a high concentration of media ownership and national law for instance, does not contain specific regulations directed at Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPPs). On the other hand, the Dutch government has announced additional measures to protect journalists and press freedom. Parliament approved the establishment of a task force that will solve cases of murdered journalists. This was an important step taken towards installing practices to further ensure the protection of journalists within the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands, civil society still enjoys an open civic space. There are, however, concerning trends in relation to freedom of assembly, public participation, the safety of journalists and the impact of new (pending) safety and anti-terrorism laws.

We will include our input in an EU-wide report on the rule of law prepared by leading civil society organisation from across Europe, and will closely monitor the inclusion of our findings in the forthcoming European Commission’s report.

See here for our full contribution to the report.

Read about our previous contributions to the Rule of Law report below:

2022: Rule of Law Report, Increased Polarisation and Lack of Transparency

2021: NHC contributes to EC Rule of Law Report on the Netherlands

2020: Rule of Law Report European Commission