Wednesday

8th Feb 2023

EU commission increases pressure on Poland

  • The constitutional tribunal is at the heart of the Polish political crisis. (Photo: Lukas Plewnia)

The EU Commission hopes to increase pressure on Poland ahead of the debate between commissioners next Wednesday (13 January) on the constitutional crisis in the eastern European EU member state, although no decision is expected.

The new Polish government led by the right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) inserted friendly judges into the constitutional tribunal and made it harder for the tribunal to stop new laws, prompting a constitutional crisis.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It also rushed through a controversial media law giving the government direct control over top appointments in public broadcasting, a move criticised by Guenther Oettinger the German EU commissioner for digital economy.

The vice-president of the commission in charge of overseeing the rule of law, Frans Timmermans, wrote two letters to Warsaw in which he requested information on the legislation.

The Polish government is yet to return with an answer, though there is no set deadline for them to comment.

Last Sunday (3 January), the EU Commission, in an effort put political pressure on Poland, noted that the debate next Wednesday could open the so-called rule of law mechanism, a process for checking the health of the democracy in a member state, which could eventually result in the suspension of voting rights in the Council of the European Union.

However, the bloc's executive has since backtracked and now says the meeting next Wednesday will be only a first debate on recent events, "taking stock" of political movements in Warsaw.

Timmermans, Oettinger and justice commissioner Vera Jourova are expected to prepare a detailed report for commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

One source said that Juncker's cabinet chief, Martin Selmayr, wanted to put extra pressure on the Polish government with the threat of launching the process as early as next week, but that some commissioners were urging for more caution.

Selmayr is very familiar with rule of law issues, as he served as chief of cabinet for former justice commissioner Viviane Reding, who has was at the forefront of similar debates with Hungary in the previous commission.

Even if the commission decides to launch the procedure, first it needs to analyse the situation in Poland and then come up with recommendations.

The day before the gathering of the college of commissioners will be crucial, as Poland's constitutional tribunal is to hold a meeting on Tuesday (12 January); its president has pledged not to involve the newly appointed members, which could mean a further escalation of the crisis.

Nevertheless, the commission is keen to act as fast as possible.

The view in the Berlaymont building of the commission is that revamping the constitutional tribunal effectively abolishes the checks and balances in Poland's democracy.

Officials suggest neighbouring Germany, a political heavyweight in the EU, is also very much interested in stopping Poland's slide towards populism.

Dismantling the constitutional tribunal in Poland has hit a particular nerve in Germany which holds its constitutional court in Karlsruhe in high regard and is a symbol of its exit from totalitarianism.

The rule of law mechanism was created in 2014 after it became clear that the EU had limited tools to deal with member states that passed controversial legislation challenging the fundamental values of the bloc, as highlighted by several years of political battle between Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban and Brussels.

It has never been tested, but its purpose is to deal with systematic problems in a country without resorting to the so-called Article 7 procedure that could eventually see the suspension of voting rights of the member state concerned.

Another way the EU could make Poland steer back from its course is the suspension of EU funds to the country, but officials insist that that is not on the table as reneging on operational contracts could mean opening "Pandora's box."

EU commission criticism upsets Warsaw

The Polish foreign ministry has summoned the European Commission’s top official in Warsaw to clarify criticism of its new media law.

Agenda

Poland in spotlight This WEEK

Poland in spotlight this week as EU commission discusses its controversial new laws, while the EU continues to put pressure on Turkey to stem the flow of migrants.

Opinion

Wales' message to Europe: 'We'll be back'

The scars of Brexit have left their mark in communities across Wales. The Menai mussel industry has experienced a sharp decline having once been a staple in fish counters and restaurants across Europe; its business model wrecked by post-Brexit rules.

Column

Why Europe's interminable compromises are a virtue

All member states complain about European compromises, each for their own reasons. Nevertheless, these decisions tend to be robust precisely because there is enough in them for everybody. And nobody wants to start negotiating all over again for another deal.

Latest News

  1. Polish MEP also went on freelance Azerbaijan trip
  2. Why Europe's interminable compromises are a virtue
  3. Wales' message to Europe: 'We'll be back'
  4. MEPs to vote on risky 'hydrogen for home heating' rule
  5. The man who won't stop filing info requests until every EU doc is public
  6. EU hands Libya coast guard boats ahead of migration summit
  7. Eleven suicides daily — Spain's not-so-silent pandemic
  8. The return of Lula means now is the time for EU-Mercosur deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWWEU Social Dialogue review – publication of the European Commission package and joint statement of ETUFs
  2. Oxfam InternationalPan Africa Program Progress Report 2022 - Post Covid and Beyond
  3. WWFWWF Living Planet Report
  4. EFBWWEFBWW Executive Committee report on major abuses, labour crime and subcontracting
  5. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  6. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  2. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us