Latvian President Egils Levits receives honorary doctorate

Defending democracy and the rule of law

2023-05-02 Latvian President Egils Levits was awarded an honorary doctorate by the new Faculty of Political Science. At the award ceremony, he emphasised the legal-dogmatic foundations for common European values and addressed the associated political challenges. In the subsequent panel discussion on "The European Union as a Community of Law and Values", Egils Levits discussed the state of the European Union with Stefanie Otte, President of the Higher Regional Court of Celle, Sarah Engler, Professor of Comparative Politics, and Professor Till Patrik Holterhus, an expert in constitutional and administrative law. The round was moderated by Professor of International Relations Tobias Lenz.

"How do you deal with it when the struggle for freedom, but also for the rule of law and prosperity, which the Republic of Latvia has been waging for more than 30 years, receives little attention in the founding states?" asked University President Sascha Spoun in his opening speech, addressing the different historical developments in the east and west of the EU. Especially in times of Russia's war of aggression on Ukraine, these differences are particularly noticeable.

Levits, who studied politics and law in Hamburg, praised the interdisciplinary orientation of the new Faculty of Political Science: it is "timely and very correct that the state as an object must be viewed from different angles." The founding idea of the Faculty of Political Science, to form a faculty from political science, law and economics, dedicated to the analysis of the complex and dynamic interrelations of our present, was very important, he said. "Only together and in an interdisciplinary way can we understand what the state is," said Levits, who was a judge at the European Court of Human Rights for fifteen years and played a crucial role in Latvia's accession movement.

Meanwhile, there is disagreement within the EU, Levits pointed out in an acceptance speech, about the relationship between the rule of law and democracy. Democracy needs the rule of law as a guarantor, so that the majority decides nothing that endangers democracy itself. As a judge at the ECJ, he himself endowed the EU with the power of definition in 2018. This means that EU judges now have the competence to define the values of the Union and to check their realisation. "And not everyone is happy with that," he pointed out.

In the panel discussion that followed, moderator Tobias Lenz reminded the audience that Poland and Hungary are moving away from European values. Political scientist Sarah Engler pleaded for the dispute within the EU to be seen as a political problem and not merely as a constitutional one. Levits added: "Where democratic elections are possible, there are also possibilities for course correction" - one must ensure that political solutions can be found. That is the task of the rule of law. Regarding the war of aggression in Ukraine, Levits said: "Investment in defence means investment in peace." He made a clear plea for "deterrence through credible military potential".

Despite all the political and legal disputes within the EU, the discussion also revealed that the war of aggression on Ukraine could create something like a "Consitutional Moment". A momentum in which one could reposition oneself and strengthen joint action. Levits warned: "The enemy for Russia is not Latvia, but NATO. We need to see this less provincially. We all have to make sure that democratic Europe is defended."