Tuesday

29th Sep 2020

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.

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

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.

Exclusive

'Big Three' EP groups nominate homophobe for Sakharov prize

The centre-right EPP, centre-left S&D, and liberal Renew Europe have all nominated a homophobe for the Sakharov prize - the prestigious annual prize handed out by the European Parliament to people who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms.

News in Brief

  1. Spanish court defenestrates Catalan leader
  2. Report: EU helped Taiwan on name dispute
  3. Belarusian writer goes to Germany for treatment
  4. Rapid Covid-19 tests for developing world imminent
  5. Dutch advised against 'non-essential' travel to Belgium
  6. Covid-19 hit Roma community hard, report finds
  7. Merkel visited Navalny in Berlin hospital
  8. EU's new raw materials strategy 'threatens' climate action

Opinion

Why so few women in EU missions?

Angela Merkel is only the seventh woman to chair the Council of the European Union's meetings. And in 2020 there is no woman leading any of the current 11 European civilian missions (let alone the six military operations).

Commission chief under fire for Croatia campaign video

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen recorded a video in support of Croatia's ruling party, which the EU executive said was in her "personal capacity" - and admits it was a "mistake" that this was not made clear.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. EU tries to avoid lockdowns as global death toll reaches 1m
  2. Reports: Turkey sent Syrian fighters to Azerbaijan
  3. German presidency tries to end EU's rule-of-law battle
  4. 'Sponsored returns' may shuffle failed asylum seekers around EU
  5. German wins election to be mayor of Romania's third city
  6. Minsk on the edge means whole Eastern Partnership is at risk
  7. Caucasus warfare prompts EU alarm
  8. Summit reloaded and last Brexit round This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us