This article offers a critical analysis of the role played by regional international organizations (IOs) – in particular the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, and the European Union (EU) – in coping with the problems that have been affecting the rule of law in the aftermath of the recent economic and financial crises. The intent is to highlight the main shortcomings of the monitoring/enforcement tools designed by these IOs and to assess whether they require further revision. The specific focus will be on the mechanisms put in place in response to the illiberal practices and constitutional reforms adopted in Hungary from 2011 to 2013. This case is instructive in two respects. In the first place, those legal and political developments have been harshly criticized by all the IOs concerned, and so their response makes it possible to see (i) in what way and to what extent they operate in monitoring and protecting the rule of law, (ii) how well they interact in subiecta materia, and (iii) the strengths and weaknesses of their mandate. And, in the second place, the Hungarian question has made it apparent that violations of the rule of law at the national level can easily take on a systemic, structural and multifaceted dimension that rises to the European level – a problem I will be referring to as the “rule-of-law crisis”. This has prompted an overall rethinking of the way the rule of law needs to be enforced, in a debate that has gained momentum within the EU legal order, very recently leading to a proposal (in March 2014) for a new EU framework through which to strengthen the rule of law. Here, the potential impact of this framework will be considered by also taking into account the alternative solutions offered by scholars and stakeholders.
Announced by the European Commission in its 2015 European Agenda on Migration as one of the EU’s priority tools to face the “unprecedented” migration crisis the Union was experiencing, the “hotspot” approach consists of a common platform for EU agencies (namely, the European Asylum Support Office, Frontex, Eurojust, and Europol) to intervene, rapidly and in an integrated manner, in frontline Member States when there is a crisis due to specific and disproportionate migratory pressure at their external borders. The goal was to reduce the pressure at the borders of the most affected Member States to “normal” levels while ensuring the proper reception, identification, and processing of arrivals. The present contribution makes some introductory remarks on issues of international responsibility under international law emerging from the implementation – by State and EU actors – of the hotspot approach. In particular, the analysis will focus on problems related to the attribution of conduct, in light of the large number of subjects involved in the relevant activities. In this respect, this contribution will highlight first the function of hotspots. Then, the discussion will analyze the position of different actors involved in the hotspot approach in light of the international law framework on international responsibility. An assessment of what has been discussed in the preceding sections is contained in the final part.