Thursday

9th Feb 2023

Polish reform deepens rule-of-law threat, Timmermans says

  • Timmermans is still hoping for dialogue in person with Polish ministers (Photo: European Commission)

A new Polish judicial reform risks aggravating the systematic threat to the rule-of-law in the country, the EU Commission's vice-president Frans Timmermans told MEPs on Monday (6 November).

Timmermans urged Polish authorities to take into account the concerns of the EU executive as well as other watchdog bodies, like the Venice Commission's opinion and make sure the planned reforms, and the two draft laws proposed by president Andrzej Duda in September do not infringe EU rules.

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

"The Commission is of the opinion that these laws do create a threat to the rule of law, a systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland," Timmermans told the civil liberties committee, ahead of a plenary debate on Poland in the parliament next week.

Timmermans said the new laws give the justice minister power to appoint and dismiss senior judges, allowing for political interference.

He said the Commission also has legal concerns over the justice ministers' ability to prolong the mandate of judges after they had reached their retirement age. It creates an opportunity for political pressure, as conditions for the prolongation are vague.

Timmermans said that despite several invitations to Polish ministers to settle the ongoing rule of law probe into Poland's judiciary, the ministers of the Law and Justice party (PiS) government have not met with him to discuss the concerns. Talks have instead only been in writing.

"I hope we can start a dialogue in person," Timmermans said.

The Commission issued its latest recommendations in July under the probe, and said the PiS government has violated Poland's constitution when reforming the Constitutional Tribunal.

Member states also weighed in on the rule of law in Poland in September , with none of the EU countries raising the possibility of sanctions under the Article 7 procedure.

Majority will vs rule of law

The PiS government in return accused Timmermans of political bias and double standards.

Jadwiga Wisniewska, an MEP from the ruling PiS party argued that her party has the majority in parliament.

"This is what democracy is about: the majority has the right to implement the programme with which it campaigned," she said.

Timmermans retorted by saying that a majority does not mean the government can violate the rule-of-law principle.

"An election victory does not give you right to violate the constitution, to violate laws," he said.

Timmermans added: "If we know anything about European history it is that the democracy argument was used to eliminate human rights, to make a mockery of rule of law. Democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights, […] one cannot be used against the other."

"The whole idea that there is one lunatic in the Commission addressing Poland is completely beside reality," Timmermans added.

He warned that if the rule-of-law is threatened in one member state, then it is threatened in all EU countries.

"If we do not maintain the rule of law in Europe, then we will take leave of the most fundamental values of a European cooperation. And this will not just affect the member state Poland. It will affect all of us," he said.

Hungary and Poland defy EU authority

Hungary and Poland have said they "don't want a mixed population", amid a tug-of-war with the Commission on migrants and rule of law.

Article 7 not mentioned in Poland probe update

While Polish president Andrzej Duda proposes amendments to further increase political control over the judiciary, EU ministers voice support for the rule of law, but make no mention of the Article 7 sanctions.

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. EU leaders attempt to hash out response to US green subsidies
  2. Russian diplomats in EU: unpaid wages, low morale
  3. Eight EU states press for more Turkey-style migrant swap deals
  4. EU buries head deeper in sand over Israel's apartheid
  5. Polish MEP also went on freelance Azerbaijan trip
  6. Why Europe's interminable compromises are a virtue
  7. Wales' message to Europe: 'We'll be back'
  8. MEPs to vote on risky 'hydrogen for home heating' rule

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