The rule of law has traditionally been conceived of as being limited to applying to public actors, including in the European Union. Yet the rule of law is meant to protect individuals from the arbitrary exercise of power, Jacquelyn D. Veraldi (University of Groningen) writes in the latest CEU DI Working Paper.
Moreover, private actors may possess comparable levels of power to public actors, hence having a comparable opportunity to cause harm. Indeed, individuals, corporations and other non-State actors may exercise power over various aspects of society, the economy, and politics, presenting numerous risks, including political influence, corruption, and lack of accountability.
If the EU is to be considered to be based on the rule of law, it must require Member States to preclude private actors from arbitrarily wielding their power over weaker individuals. The idea of limiting the ability for private actors to arbitrarily exercise the power they hold vis-à-vis others is already part of the underlying fabric of various areas of law: fundamental rights, consumer protection and competition law, and labour law, for instance. Thus, it appears that the rule of law is not just about the tethering of public power, despite widespread assumptions to the contrary.