Wednesday

23rd Aug 2017

EU gives Poland more time to respect values

  • (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission has given Poland more time to restore the independence of its constitutional court, or face the risk of sanctions.

The move also buys the EU executive more time to rally other EU institutions - the EU Council and the European Parliament - behind possible penalties against Poland.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Commission vice president Frans Timmermans told a news conference on Wednesday (21 December) that he would present Poland with "additional recommendations" on how to protect rule of law in the country, on top of the ones already issued in July.

The commission first opened a probe in January, after the newly elected Law and Justice party (PiS) tried to stuff the constitutional court with loyal judges and passed laws making the court's work less efficient.

On Wednesday, Timmermans explained that the Polish government had recently passed three more laws that further paralyse the top court by changing the way its president is elected.

He was also worried about the appointment of a "so-called acting president" of the court.

"This [institution] is nowhere to be found in the Polish constitution. It should have been put before the constitutional court, who could judge whether this is compatible with the constitution. This did not happen," he said.

"We have a lot of questions," he added, saying it would only be "fair" to give Poland a chance to answer.

"Perhaps if we now send recommendations on the new legislation, it may lead to the Polish government reconsidering its position," he said.

"I can't say my experience over the last year justifies optimism, but I will try," he added.

The commissioner said he still believed there were "possibilities of finding solutions even in the framework of the new laws", but that he would use the coming two months to build up political support in case it showed necessary to impose sanctions on Poland.

"We have to know whether the institutions want to do on this, test the waters," he said, referring to the Council, representing member states, and the EU parliament.

"Problem solved"

It is the first time that Timmermans, who is in charge of the rule of law in the EU, publicly considered the possibility of triggering article 7 of the EU treaty - the formal mechanism to find a state in serious breach of the bloc's values, which could lead to sanctions such as losing voting rights in the Council.

Replying to the commission's announcement, the Polish government's spokesman, Rafal Bochenek, said that the problem with the constitutional court had been solved.

"Three laws regulating the court were passed. A new president was appointed. Problems are a thing of the past."

"We don't see a reason why the European Commission should still deal with the issue," he told Polish press agency PAP.

The commission's decision to stop short of launching the sanction procedure was criticised in some quarters.

Natacha Kazatchkine, from the Open Society European Policy Institute, regretted that it had "yet again failed to take decisive action against deliberate and severe undermining of the rule of law in Europe."

"It may be buying time, but in doing so it is losing its already shaky credibility by the day," she said.

Laurent Pech, a professor of European law at Middlesex University, told EUobserver that after Poland failed to address the commission's July set of recommendations, "one would have expected the commission to trigger article 7 paragraph 1, which doesn't necessarily mean sanctions."

"Article 7 also has a pre-emptive role. It can be used to send a ‘warning signal to an offending’ country before the risk of a serious breach of EU values materialises."

Would the commission continue to hesitate, the article can also be triggered by the council or the EU parliament.

Last week, during a parliamentary debate, a number of MEPs said they supported that the article should be invoked.

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.

EUobserved

How to build an illiberal democracy in the EU

With Brussels increasingly worried by Poland, we take a look how Hungary's Viktor Orban created a template for dismantling democratic checks and balances inside an EU state.

Opinion

EU must tackle Poland's bad behaviour

Developments in Washington only serve to highlight the need for positive action in the face of an overtly nationalistic and anti-rights form of populism.

Europeans more optimistic about EU since Brexit vote

Perceptions of the EU have increased significantly in France, and Europeans generally feel more optimistic about the future of the bloc since last autumn - despite Brexit and a surge in populism.

Opinion

Macron goes east to test appetite for EU integration

The next few months will be decisive in selecting who stays in the core of the EU and who stays behind, writes Tomas Prouza, a former state secretary for European Affairs of the Czech Republic.

News in Brief

  1. US will ask Nato allies to send more troops into Afghanistan
  2. Greece to be absent at event on Communism and Nazism
  3. Czechs want observer status in Eurogroup meetings
  4. Putin sends EU-blacklisted ambassador to US
  5. Austria has begun checks at Italian border
  6. Slovenian PM: Brexit talks will take longer than expected
  7. Merkel backs diesel while report warns of economic harm
  8. UK to publish new Brexit papers this week

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEuropean Governments Must Take Stronger Action Against Terrorism
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  3. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  4. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  6. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  9. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  11. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  12. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference