After the communist takeovers across Eastern and Central Europe in 1945, the judiciary became the political and ideological instruments of the ruling communist parties. Then came 1989 and the hopes of establishing an independent court system. Yet over the past few years in several countries in Central and south-Eastern Europe, the judiciary has become targets for governments who are changing the retirement age of judges, interfering in their contracts, intimidating them through the social media or corruption, or ensuring that their 'own' judges are appointed. The result is that the individual's trust in the courts is weakened and with it, the rule of law. The greater the pressure on the judiciary, the greater the damage inflicted on democracy and accountability.
The consequences for Europe cannot be underestimated. First, from the geostrategic viewpoint, Russia and China can only revel in the deteriorating rule of law as nationalist, ultra-conservative, populist governments in several EU member states erode the independence of the judiciary. Second, a weak rule of law undermines transparency and accountability. This has a negative economic impact. Investors want clarity and the knowledge that the judiciary is independent. If not, they will stay away - or resort to bribing their way to win contracts. Third, continuing pressure on the judiciary weakens the EU as a whole as the bloc prides itself on promoting the rule of law.
What's gone wrong and how it can be rectified will be the questions Judy Dempsey tries to reply to in her work as Europe’s Futures Fellow in 2020/21.