Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

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

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join 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.

EU on path towards whistleblower protection

EU lawmakers and member states have struck a political deal on the first-ever EU-wide directive on whistleblower protection - following years of big tax-evasion revelations and the laundering of dirty money in European banks.

Germany's CDU lukewarm on Macron's EU vision

Germany's anointed new leader has echoed France in calling for EU reform to combat populism - but with a stronger role for national governments and with little prospect of sharing German wealth.

News in Brief

  1. Blow for May as third vote on Brexit deal ruled out
  2. Three killed in possible 'terror' gun attack in Utrecht
  3. Third Brexit vote this week only if DUP will support it
  4. Germany's two largest banks confirm merger talks
  5. Serbian pro-democracy protests reach 15th week
  6. 'Yellow Vest' riots leave Paris shops vandalised
  7. European woman older when having first baby
  8. Majority of Germans want Merkel to stay on

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  3. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  6. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  11. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  12. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  2. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  5. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us