Tuesday

21st Feb 2017

Poland rejects EU 'interferences' on rule of law

  • The Law and Justice government says there is no need to worry about the state of democracy in Poland. (Photo: ECR group)

Poland has told the European Commission that its rule-of-law probe was flawed by a lack of objectivity and insufficient knowledge of the Polish legal system.

In a ten page long document, leaked by TVN24, the Polish government said that Brussels overestimates the role of the constitutional court when it comes to ensuring rule of law in Poland.

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It said that other institutions, such as the state tribunal, or the president’s office, also provide checks and balances on the government's power.

Warsaw said that the commission was acting in bad faith because it pursued its probe, despite the Polish parliament's efforts to address some of its criticism.

"We have gradually come to realise that interferences into Poland’s internal affairs are not characterised by adherence to objectivism, or respect for sovereignty, subsidiarity, and national identity," the foreign affairs ministry also said in a public statement.

EU probe

Last July, the EU executive stated there was a ”systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland” and gave Warsaw three months, until 27 October, to take action or else face possible sanctions.

Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, who leads the probe, said he was particularly worried by a lack of independence of Polish courts.

Poland's constitutional tribunal has been paralysed after the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party refused to recognise key judgements and tried to stuff it with loyalist judges.

The government waited until the deadline to reply that they won’t make any changes to the situation.

It’s the first time the commission has put an EU member under scrutiny for passing undemocratic reforms. But, the procedure is still unchartered waters.

Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Friday that the next step will be to "carefully" evaluate the Polish government’s response.

"We can confirm that we received a letter from the Polish government. At this stage we will not speculate on possible further steps,” he said.

Article 7

Laurent Pech, professor of European law at Middlesex University in London, said the commission has little room for manoeuvre.

The only option was to trigger article 7 of the EU treaty, which says that EU countries must respect common principles, such as the rule of law, or risk sanctions and even the suspension of voting rights in the Council, where EU governments are represented.

Such a step would require the backing of all EU member states, with the exception of Poland.

”Considering the uncooperative behaviour of the Polish authorities and the body of overwhelming evidence of a deliberate strategy of systematically undermining all checks and balances in Poland, the commission has no other choice but to trigger article 7,” he told EUobserver.

”This is not to say that there is any realistic chance of seeing the Council adopting sanctions against Poland. This would however finally oblige national governments to face up to their own responsibilities,” he added.

A commission spokeswoman, recently told this website that a functioning constitutional court was key to Poland’s rule of law, because it could stop other, dangerous legislative proposals.

”We are also worried about the media law, as well as a number of other laws, which have been challenged before the constitutional tribunal. It is essential that the court is able to review the compliance of such legislative reforms with the Polish constitution, and that its judgments are respected,” the spokeswoman said.

Analysis

EU still shy of 'nuclear option' on values

The EU commission has moved forward with its rule-of-law probe on Poland, but critics say that a better framework is needed to uphold values.

Poland defies EU on rule of law

Prime minister Szydlo said the European Commission concerns over rule of law in Poland were political grudges.

Opinion

Mr Juncker, be Bob the Builder

Now is the time for the EU commission president to accept the pact proposed by the European Parliament to uphold democracy and our fundamental rights, write six MEPs from five political groups.

Poland: Russia seeks 'new empire' in Europe

Polish minister said Russian military “aggression” in Europe was a threat even to "lucky" states, such as Ireland, which are not on the front line.

Interview

Polish government in bid to defund NGOs

Ruling Law and Justice has promised to overhaul the NGO sector. The move could strain relations with Norway, a major donor to Polish civic life.

EU commission drops anti-corruption report

Transparency campaigners are livid after the EU commission scuppered plans to publish an EU anti-corruption report amid unfolding corruption scandals in Romania and France.

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