Rule of law issues came up high on the European agenda in the past decade. The general decline of democracy and problems of rule of law cannot be solved solely by EU institutions. Local level, cities and regions have a pivotal role in defending and promoting the rule of law, while they are also among the first ones to suffer from the lack of the rule of law in a country. The Pact of Free Cities, initiated by the Mayors of the capital cities of the V4 group, grown by now a European and global network of more than 30 cities, is based on the values of democracy, freedom, human dignity, and the rule of law.
Cities often suffer from this rule of law deficit through forced centralization, political discrimination, and financial destabilization caused by the actions of their respective national governments. In some cases, state of emergency regimes due to the pandemic have reduced the funding and powers of cities, which has also resulted in a decline in the rule of law. These centralization efforts clearly conflict with the interests of the European Union and its principle of subsidiarity. Urban administrations are in direct contact with citizens in many areas that affect their daily lives and through their responsibilities, cities play a crucial role in ensuring European values.
Mayors of five Pact member cities gathered in Brussels on 7th February 2023 to discuss in the framework of the conference „Cities for the Rule of Law” how cities can contribute to promoting EU values and the rule of law in conversation with Commissioner Didier Reynders. The Cities and Commissioner also explored what the EU can do to support cities in these endeavours. Experts from academia as well as the European Parliament further explored the problems in Europe and how they can be addressed.
The Pact of Free Cities calls upon the Commission to acknowledge cities as indispensable partners in upholding human rights and in ensuring the implementation of the fundamental principles of the European Union such as the rule of law. The cities of the Pact proposed that rule of law reports should cover the legal situation of cities/municipalities and address the possible deteriorations thereof, considering that the legal and economic situation of cities should be included in the country-specific recommendations.