When it comes to debate the breaches of the rule of law across Europe, much of the talk concerns the so called Visegrád countries, a group of Central-Eastern EU Member States comprising the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

More specifically, the leadership of the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, and the PiS (Law and Justice) party in Poland – both of whom only recently won the general elections in their countries – are considered as critical examples of a political approach questioning the independence of judicial and media spheres, a cornerstone of modern liberal democracies.

But how did the perception of the respect of the principle of the rule of law across evolve across Europe over the past two decades? Are the Visegrád countries the only ones where citizens lament executives and governments not abiding by the rule of law?

The Worldwide Governance Indicator 

The World Bank provides useful data on the topic through its Worldwide Governance Indicators. The latter provides “aggregate and individual governance indicators for six dimensions of governance”, namely: “voice and accountability; political stability and absence of violence/terrorism; government effectiveness; regulatory quality; rule of law; control of corruption”. 

Concerning the “rule of law” dimension, the indicator captures “perceptions of the extent to which agents have confidence in and abide by the rules of society, and in particular the quality of contract enforcement, property rights, the police, and the courts, as well as the likelihood of crime and violence” (the aggregate indicator is built using a variety of other data sources, see methodological paper. For immediate download here).

The following three charts depict respectively the performance of EU countries in 2018, the evolution of the score between 1996 and 2018, and the variation in absolute terms of the score between 1996 and 2018. The score can vary between a minimum of – 2.5 and a maximum value of 2.5.

The first chart highlights (colour orange) that Visegrád countries are among those featuring a score below the EU-average and -median value (both equal to: 1.1). Nevertheless, also Southern EU countries fare badly, together with two Baltic countries (Latvia and Lithuania) and Eastern states such as Romania and Bulgaria (not visible because value equals “0”).

However, if we take a look at the long run, the picture changes slightly. In figure 2 we show the evolution of all Eu countries between 1996 and 2018. Colour codes are used to highlight whether the score of a given country increased (green), decreased (red), or remained the same (yellow). Significantly, the Baltic countries appear those being on an upward trend. Conversely, looking at the “bad pupils”, the steep fall of Greece and Italy appear more significant than the performances of Hungary and Poland.

Eventually, chart number three sums up the second graph by depicting the absolute variation (red: negative; blue: positive) between the 1996 and 2018 data points.

Notwithstanding the fact that these data refer to “perceptions” and not “actual breaches” of the rule of law, the question goes: why do we focus only on the Visegrád 4 when discussing the topic of the rule of law?