The European Commission’s rule of law reporting cycle presents an annual opportunity to document the impact of improvements in, or infringements of, academic freedom and institutional autonomy on the rule of law across the European Union. However, to date, the Commission’s reports have yet to fully articulate academic freedom, institutional autonomy and protection of scholars, as prerequisites, or enabling conditions for the rule of law. This is a missed opportunity to account for their role in maintaining the rule of law within the Union. Academic freedom allows the creation, preservation, and transmission of evidence-based knowledge, and nurtures critical thinking, open discourse, and the free exchange of ideas; all of which are essential to a society capable of holding public authorities and other powerful forces to account. In fact when assessing how autocratization unfolds, the V-Dem Institute determined that alongside the targeting of media and civil society, academic freedoms are typically repressed first. Therefore highlighting the links between academic freedom and the rule of law can only improve the quality of future rule of law reporting. If the rule of law reporting cycle is intended to be a “a preventive tool”, aimed at improving the rule of law situation across the Union by “preventing challenges from emerging or deteriorating”, 4 then it should explicitly account for the role academic freedom plays in maintaining the rule of law within the Union
SAR Europe Position Paper on the European Commission’s Annual Rule of Law Reports 12 May 2023 is available here.