Democracy & Justice

​Bumper Round Of Approvals For New EU Legislation

Missed the last weeks of the European Parliament plenary session? Don't worry, we'll get you covered. An overview from AI Act to EMFA, CSDDD, anti-SLAPPs and much more.

by Kersty McCourt

The last weeks have seen an intense round of approvals from EU legislators as they strive to secure final votes on several laws ahead of recess and the June European Parliament elections. Some of these laws have been under discussion since the start of the legislative term in 2019 and represent years of advocacy, and in certain cases, initiatives by civil society to draft model laws.

While most of the final texts reached political agreement in December 2023, paving the way for what should have been a straightforward set of final approvals during the last sessions of the Council and Parliament, one law - the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) - resulted in a tense reopening of key clauses. The delay, marked by the subsequent weakening of parts of the text, raised serious questions about the rule of law within the EU legislative process.

The transparency and accountability of the decision-making process is important for all co-legislators and EU citizens. By reneging on agreements and forcing rushed compromises, individual member states undermined the process and left no room for real engagement with co-legislators or civil society. Failure to reach a consensus would have undone four years of hard work and risked the loss of a law that had strong support from businesses, civil society and consumers. In a race against time, the compromise text was put to vote last week in the European Parliament, and now awaits one final approval by the Council in May. It stands alongside several other new laws that, in the most part, should strengthen the human rights protections in the EU:

  • Anti-SLAPP Directive: similar to the CSDDD, the law to combat Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) was the result of extensive advocacy and a model Anti-SLAPP law drafted by a coalition of civil society coalition organisations. The Directive, adopted earlier this year, sets minimum standards for protecting journalists and watchdog organisations against abusive litigation and is complemented by a Recommendation adopted by the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe. Importantly it provides for an early dismissal mechanism and significant fines for claimants using SLAPPs to intimidate watchdog organisations.
  • European Media Freedom Act (EMFA): representing a significant step forward, the EMFA lays down minimum standards for member states, national media authorities, self-regulatory bodies, and editorial staff to combat threats to media freedom. It includes provisions to counter media capture, lack of transparency, and underfunded public service media. However, the rules are high level and a lot depends on national authorities and governments, and the degree to which the Board can influence national-level safeguards to protect and strengthen media freedom and pluralism. Furthermore, the EMFA falls short of standards set by the EU’s highest courts on the protection of journalistic sources and regulation of the use of spyware againast media workers.
  • Corporate Sustainable Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD): despite last minute concessions, the CSDDD requires large companies to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence in their own operations and across the full length of their supply chains. If companies don't meet the requirements, communities will have the power to take legal action against them.
  • Artificial Intelligence Act: this landmark legislation is the first of its kind globally. However, far from being a gold standard, the many loopholes mean it fails to adequately protect human rights. The final text fails to create a full ban on some of the most dangerous forms of AI, creates a rights-free zone for national security exemptions, and provides more limited protections to non-EU citizens, especially refugees and people on the road, creating a two-tiered system of protection. The process was also marred by a lack of systematic dialogue with civil society.

Two key pieces of legislation will extend into the next parliamentary mandate. Spearheaded by civil society and the European Parliament, in 2023 the European Commission proposed a text for an EU Cross Border Associations Directive, an EU-wide legal framework specifically tailored for civil society organisations. The second is the central piece of legislation included in the Defence of Democracy Package, proposed in December 2023. The Directive’s purported aim is to ensure the transparency of covert interference by foreign governments. Yet the proposal risks violating fundamental rights, lacks legal certainty and, while creating an administrative burden for civil society organisations, is unlikely to achieve its stated aim. It’sdisappointing to end the legislative term with the EU proposing a law that in many ways mirrors legislation that has limited the space for civil society across the globe.

These new laws have huge potential and now await effective implementation by member states, alongside continuous monitoring to assess their impact in tandem with evolving challenges. They also demonstrate the EU’s role setting standards, and the importance and benefits of engaging civil society. Yet real concerns emerged, undermining the EU as a legislator grounded in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and reinforcing the need, as advocated by civil society, for a structured process of civil dialogue.

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