Future of Europe


The topic for the 3rd debate is:

The European Commission should take into account civil society protests when deciding the use of Article 7.

In this debate Team EngagEU 1 (Affirmative) will face Team Michel (negative).

The 1st debater of the affirmative team has 24 hours to post the 1st speech of the debate. Even if the speech is posted before the 24 hours expire, the 1st negative speakers’ 24 hours of preparation time will begin when the initial time expires.

Before posting please consult Guildelines and the Online Debate Guide.

Good luck to all teams!


I thank both teams for this debate.

There were some tricky aspects to this match, but ultimately I sided the proposition, Team EngagEU 1, as the winners.

The overview is quite simple, I felt that proposition team had some simple, yet solid arguments, that outlined why it’s legitimate and principally valid to take “the civil society” into account when deciding the use of article 7, while I didn’t find that opposition managed to prove any specific harms of this motion.

I’d like to briefly comment on a small “issue” of the debate, regarding the relation between “civil society movements” and their respective governments, when the opposition accused the proposition team of portraying their material in a “disrespectful” way. After closely reading the exchange, I didn’t find that prop portrayal was in any way disrespectful, neither intentionally or unintentionally. The source of this issue stems from the opposition argument that “can be countered as in the aforementioned example, restricted or punished, particularly if a government no longer guarantees the right to public protest or freedom of expression”. The problem with this, within the debate, is that while it may be true that, yes, these movements can be somehow undermined by the political forces, this doesn’t correlate with the idea that these movements should not be a factor when deciding the use of Article 7. Maybe there is a connection there, but opposition doesn’t point it out specifically. I found this argument to be somewhat unclear or unimpactful, which may in turn have lead to proposition understanding it as “the negative team argues that civil society protests can be ignored if national governments restrict them”, meaning, I think, that they understood that “a restriction on these protests might lead to them becoming ignored”. But again, regardless of the issue, the ability of a government to restrict such a movement doesn’t in any way prove or disprove the fact the ‘civil society movements’ should be a factor when deciding the use of article 7. I think the lack of clarity in the opposition argument led to this small misunderstanding, which I don’t think was intentional on mean-spirited in any way, as I myself had some trouble understanding exactly what the core of the idea was.

Regarding the debate overall, I find that proposition presents simple and sound arguments, but lacking in clear benefits for any of the parties involved. Yes, it’s clear the the EU values the civil society, it’s an important part of democracy, and so on, but SHOULD this aspect of society become a factor? What are the benefits? There is technical si philosophical legitimacy to the idea that civil society is an indicator of “democratic well-being” within a country, and that it can be a valuable metric for the E.U. But in practice, what would be the actual gains? Just because we could, doesn’t mean that we should? Even if the EU already takes these movements into account, somewhat, doesn’t mean that it’s automatically a good idea.

There is an opposing and competing idea on side opposition, regarding the fact that Art. 7 is meant to ‘pressure’ the ruling class, without creating further harms for the population. This idea is sound and has some merit, but I feel that it doesn’t stand up to the proposition portrayal of the importance and the impact, for democracy, of the civil society movements. But in practice, the reason I find the opposition somewhat lacking in this debate is the absence of speculated, potential, probable or clear harms/disadvantages to the motion. What could happen? What are the risks when taking people’s “subjective” opinion into account? Are citizens a good measure of democratic deficit? Does the EU become a mirror of societal beliefs and is that bad? What is lost and what is gained when the “objective” part of this process, the facts, get muddled by societal and civic perception? Yes, the EU can decide on using article 7 WITHOUT any input for the civil society, but why is that the desirable way to do things?

This is my perspective on the overall debate. There are other nuances that I didn’t discuss here, but in the end I think that Team EngagEU 1 wins this debate.

Speaker points:

1st Affirmative: 18 (Content: 7; Style: 6; Strategy: 5)
2nd Affirmative: 16 (Content: 6; Style 6; Strategy: 4)

1st Negative: 15 (Content: 6; Style: 5; Strategy: 4)
2nd Negative: 14 (Content: 5; Style: 5; Strategy: 4)

  • Edit
    Team Michel

    At the outset, we are pleased to acknowledge the contributions of the affirmative party. However, in light of their fragmented discussion, we will critically examine and counter their deliberations. Out of fairness, we refrain from introducing new arguments, given the lack of opportunity for our colleagues to respond.

    To begin with, it is of necessity to clarify our arguments, thereby respond to an intrinsically falsified understanding of our propositions.

    1. The affirmative party wrongfully delineated our first motion as naïve, grounded in the incautious presumption that we proclaimed civil society to be unaffected in an application of Article 7. However, when one carefully reads our motion, it is rather apparent that we argue the opposite. In instances where an application of Article 7 is inevitable, the citizens have already been substantially affected by a government undermining fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law. Accordingly, the procedure is structured in order to not further aggravate the repercussions for the citizens. Instead, we emphasise that Article 7 primarily pressures those in power through sanctions that limit a government’s voting and representation rights, thereby aspiring to facilitate civil society in demanding fundamental change. At no point in our first response have we argued civil society to exist in a different sphere. Instead, we ascertain the affirmative party that we are more than aware of the profound consequences that a population has to endure in times of instability. Of course, a civil society can play an important part in defending European values. However, for an application of Article 7, the EC does not need to take their actions or efforts into consideration, as the procedure seeks to solely penalise the machinery of the government. It is therefore important for the EC to conduct an independent assessment of breaches in order to ultimately facilitate civil society.

    2. The affirmative party falsely claims that we proposed civil society protests to be simply ignored if a government is already restricting their efforts and demands. Again, at no point in our first response have we presented such propositions. Quite frankly, such a portrayal of our motion is rather disrespectful and against the merits of an equitable debate. As we have emphasised on multiple occasions, we attribute a substantial value to civil societies, their efforts to promote European values and their capabilities to foster a democratic citizenry. By no means do we argue the voice of civil society to be simply disregarded if raised against fundamental injustices. Instead, our argumentation is founded on the premise that civil society protests shall solely be disregarded in the procedure of Article 7, not in its entirety.

    3. Although we acknowledge that the European Parliament, rather than the EC, has triggered Article 7 as to Hungary, we have by no means simply disregarded this differentiation. Instead, we have, perhaps wrongly, not considered it to be detrimental in light of this debate.

    Moreover, although we have not provided proof that the EC is disregarding civil society protests in their decision on Article 7 – neither has the affirmative party in their second motion. In the press release from the 20th of December 2017, it does not at all state that the EC has, in their decision, taken alerts of civil society organisations into consideration. Instead, civil society is referred to only once, as part of a listing of organisations that have expressed concerns about the judicial reform process in Poland. With this insufficient and invalid source, the affirmative party has discredited their own argumentation and supported our claim that the EC has in the past not taken civil society protests into consideration. In addition, the press release affirms the primary aim of Article 7: to push the Polish authorities towards guaranteeing the rule of law and safeguarding the separation of powers, hence not a consideration of civil society protests.

    As rightfully stated by the affirmative party within their final argument, the EC is equipped with numerous tools to support civil societies all over the EU. As affirmed, we encourage the EU to further strengthen this cooperation through additional measures. However, again, the affirmative party fails to provide a convincing argument as to why such attention to civil societies need to be considered in the specific application of Article 7. For the functioning of the procedure, the EC shall solely consider the factual evidence of breaches, supporting civil society protests as a separate matter, thereby, adhering to their role as the “Guardian of the Treaties”.

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    Team EngagEU 1

    In the following speech, we will rebut the arguments that the negative team has put forward and reconstruct the attacked arguments in order to once more underline the need for the Commission to take into account civil society protests when deciding to trigger Article 7.

    The negative team has constructed two main arguments against our motion:

    Firstly, that civil society protests must not be taken into account, since the consequences of Art. 7 only relate to governments. It is however naive to portray a government and the civil society of a country as if they subsist in different spheres of existence. If a Member State acts in a way that makes Art.7 proceedings necessary, the public has already been affected.. The values of European Union must be defended, especially against those who subvert them in the Member States! After all, civil society is composed of citizens and democracy is based on the will of those exact citizens, and thus, shall be taken into account, always.

    Secondly, the negative team argues that civil society protests can be ignored if national governments restrict them. Yet, favoring those who have a voice over citizens who have lost theirs clearly goes against the spirit of this motion. This is clearly not our intention since one cannot ignore those citizens who raise their voice against injustice! This is especially the case if they are threatened by making use of their freedom of expression! Moreso, this makes it clear that the Commission should take civil society protests into account before they are silenced.

    Furthermore, the opposition team then refers to the role of civil society in initiating protests against the governments of Poland and Hungary. Firstly, for the sake of this motion it is important to clarify that in the case of Hungary it was not the Commission who triggered Article 7 but the Parliament, so we can therefore not take this example into account. Considering this, we assume that the negative team has failed to consider that this motion is not concerned with the decision-making process on Art.7 in general, but solely within the European Commission.
    Over and above that, following the example of Poland, we do not understand how can the opposition team affirm - with no proofs given - that the Commission did not take into account such protests. In truth, in its Press Release of December 2017 regarding its actions to defend judicial independence in Poland, the Commission clearly states its concerns vis-a-vis the Polish system and refers to the alert given by several civil society organizations, which turns the argument of the opposition team into a fallacy. Following the Commission’s precedent itself, we argue once more that civil society has an enormous role to play in giving alert of such breaches and hence shall always be taken into account.

    The negative team further theorizes that functioning democracies do not necessarily need a strong civil society. But they fail to produce any example to prove this point. The reason for this is obvious: Without a strong civil society, there can be no democracy! One can observe many attacks on civil society in threatened democracies - for instance the increasing enforcement of lèse-majesté laws in Turkey against those daring to criticise the President. Or in the case of Hungary, where Orbán has used his majority in Parliament to “impose restrictions on or assert control over the opposition, the media, religious groups, academia, NGOs, the courts, asylum seekers, and the private sector (Freedom House).“ Is the Commission to ignore those who bravely raise their voices against this? We firmly believe that it must not do so. If people then raise their voices to protest their national government, the European Commission has to take their voices into account, it is seems to our team a basic exercise of democracy.

    This brings us to our final argument. The European Commission already has a broad range of tools that monitor breaches of Art.2 TEU, such as the Rule of Law Framework, the EU Justice Scoreboard or the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. It is already closely cooperating with members of civil society, internally and externally. In case of Member States, Art.11 TEU states that the institutions should “maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society (Art.11 TEU).” It would certainly be illogical to ignore these ties.

    In this speech, we have clearly laid out why the motion is to be supported. We have successfully rebutted the arguments of the negative team, and pointed out that they have failed to deliver any further argument. If civil society protests happen, the European Commission, as the “Guardian of the Treaties”, must take them into account.

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    Team Michel

    At the outset, we are pleased to recognise the contributions of the affirmative party, primarily their deliberations on the substantial value of civil societies. However, in light of their fragmented discussion, we will critically examine their line of thought, prior to proceeding with our own argumentation.

    To begin with, a coherent understanding of the concept of civil society is detrimental for deliberations on their role within national and supranational democracies. Civil society is typically placed as a realm of politics situated between the state and citizenry, between a government and those governed. A functioning civil society can convey demands and concerns of the population to those with decision-making powers, thereby distilling and aggregating interests. As noted by the affirmative party, democracy and civil society are often referred to go hand in hand, each feeding on the merits of the other. Within academia, a vibrant civil society is perceived as pivotal to democracy, as it contributes to a government’s legitimacy and efficiency. In addition, civil society fosters the creation of a democratic citizenry that ultimately complements democratic institutions. Contrary to the proposition of our colleagues, this however does not imply that democracy in all instances necessitates a civil society. We therefore advise the affirmative party that the role of civil society goes far beyond controlling the power of the state.

    Within their arguments, the affirmative party describes the significance of civil society, both for democracy and the supranational virtues of the EU. Article 11 (TEU) and Article 15 (TFEU) ascertain this importance, prescribing a strong civil society to be fundamental for the promotion of good governance, the protection of human rights and the rule of law within the borders of each member state and beyond. However, our colleagues’ arguments lack convincing substance. The affirmative party simply presumes that because civil societies are attributed with considerable importance, they shall naturally be taken into consideration for an application of Article 7. However, we suggest otherwise:

    Article 7 of the TEU suspends rights from member states that persistently breach the EU’s fundamental values. The procedure, once triggered, aims to enhance the effectiveness of state sanctions, primarily by limiting voting and representation rights for the member state. Any country that has at one point accepted core European values by joining the EU, needs to be ultimately penalised once the agreed-on principles are no longer upheld. Thereby, it is crucial to outline that Article 7 solely seeks to pressure those threatening European values, namely those in power, without detrimental consequences for the Europeans in the state. This supports our argument that civil society protests do not need to be taken into consideration when deciding the use of Article 7, as regardless of their effectiveness and efforts, it is ultimately the breaches of core principles that necessitate the penalising of the government.

    This becomes apparent when discussing the practical realities of implementation. When Article 7 was triggered against Poland and Hungary, the respective civil societies had been actively engaged in promoting the rule of law, encouraging public debate and initiating protests to discredit the controversial changes. Both member states countered such movements by systematically altering the influence of civil societies, such as by reducing funding or prohibiting public consultation procedures. Rightfully, the EU did not consider such civil society protests in their decision on Article 7. Instead, the procedure was initiated solely on the basis of substantial evidence that Poland and Hungary have breached the previously agreed on European values. One needs to consider that civil society protests can be countered as in the aforementioned example, restricted or punished, particularly if a government no longer guarantees the right to public protest or freedom of expression. Therefore, the EU shall not consider the effectiveness or engagement of civil society prior to initiating Article 7, as it is irrelevant whether the civil society has actively engaged in pro-European protest, or whether they have remained silent.

    Overarchingly, we therefore argue that civil society protests should not be taken into account when determining the application of Article 7. Of course, the EU should nevertheless strengthen civil societies all over Europe. Support shall be enhanced through supranational programs and funding schemes in order to ultimately empower civil societies, ideally to a degree that renders Article 7 gratuitous.

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    Team EngagEU 1

    In the following motion we intend to justify the need for the European Commission to take into account civil society protests when deciding to use Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU). We would like to outline that Article 7 is of extreme importance since it is guarantee that all Member States respect the values of the EU at all times. If applied until the end, it can lead to the suspension of certain rights to the Member States, including voting rights in the Council. The European Commission is the “Guardian of the Treaties”. It to ensure that our common norms and laws are followed by all Member States. As such it has the power, conferred in Article 7, to propose a breach of values by a Member State to the Council which will then decide what measures to follow. We believe that the European Commission should take civil society protests into account when deciding on the use of Article 7.

    We will put forward our motion by laying out three main arguments: 1) by highlighting the close link between civil society and democracy; 2) by defining what should be understood as civil society according to the EU itself and how the Union establishes the role of civil society; 3) by underlining the link between the role of civil society and the protection of the core values of the Union.

    Our first argument is that of the strong link between democracy and civil society. The first and foremost role of civil society is to limit and control the power of the state. Furthermore, civil society has an important role in creating, maintaining, strengthening and deepening democracy since without it, there is simply no democracy. So in other words, civil society organizations have an essential role as watchdogs of the institutions, may they be local, regional, national or supranational institutions. As so, and in order to ensure democracy rests at the core of our Union, civil society protests must be taken into account when deciding to punish a member that starts to not play by the democratic rules.

    Secondly, according to the Glossary of Summaries of the EU, “civil society refers to all forms of social action carried out by individuals or groups who are neither connected, nor managed by, the State. A civil society organization is an organizational structure whose members serve the general interest through a democratic process, and which plays the role of mediator between public authorities and citizens”. The aforementioned definition alone reflects the importance that the EU gives to civil society, but we will take it a step forward and make a deeper analysis. Article 11 of the TEU stresses the need for the EU to have a regular, open and transparent dialogue with civil society, e.g. when drafting proposals; and additionally, Article 15 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU recognizes the importance of the role of civil society in the development and implementation of good governance of the EU. The role of civil society in the context of the Union is of substantial noteworthiness! This is one of the reasons why Article 7 should not be an exception to the rule and why civil society protests, a simple form of expression, should always be taken into account.

    Finally, we argue that all societies, in order to be so, have a set of principles and values that direct their behaviour and serve as anchors to reaching their objectives. The European Union is no exception and thus is based on a set of principles and values, which are common to each and every Member State. The acquis communautaire is transversal to the whole of the Union and in it are included the EU values. These values are enumerated in Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union and are: “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities”. Each and every Member State, as well as the Institutions, must ensure that these values, our values, are protected and promoted at all societal levels. It is also the role of civil society, in all its forms, to denounce if this does not happen and one of the forms to do so is by protesting. Any violation of our values must not be left unnoticed, so it only makes sense to listen to civil society when national governments fail to uphold our common values.

    Concluding, the proposition team believes in the role of civil society and in the paramount significance of respecting our common values. As such we do not see any other option besides taking into account any form of expression from civil society, if we want to ensure the democratic process of our Union and the upholding of our values by all governments. The Commission, as the “guardian of the Treaties”, does not only need to take into account civil society protests, it must do so, as it is its duty.