Tuesday

12th Dec 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 for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  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.

Centeno: Eurogroup picks Southern head

Portuguese finance minister was chosen by his eurozone colleagues with a 'very substantial majority' after he appeared to be the only one ticking the boxes.

Analysis

Suddenly, digital single market doesn't 'need' EU agency

EU digital commissioner Gabriel downplayed the rejection of the commission's plan for a strong EU telecommunications watchdog, highlighting that the elements of the digital single market are not set in stone.

News in Brief

  1. EU bank delays gas pipeline decision
  2. Hungary's leftwing parties join Jobbik in anti-Orban protest
  3. Barnier: EU will not accept UK backtracking on Brexit deal
  4. Puigdemont to return to Catalonia if elected
  5. Commission approves EasyJet partial takeover of Air Berlin
  6. EU medical command centre due next year
  7. Auditors: EU 'green' farm payments fail ecology criteria
  8. Austria gas explosion creates Italian energy 'emergency'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  2. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  3. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  5. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  7. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  9. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  10. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  11. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  12. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage

Latest News

  1. Last chance for Poland to return property to its rightful owners
  2. Commission attacks Tusk on 'anti-European' migrant plan
  3. Volkswagen tells EU: we will fail on our recall promise
  4. EU will not start Brexit future talks before March
  5. Bitcoin risky but 'limited phenomenon', says EU
  6. Panama Papers - start of sensible revolution in EU tax affairs?
  7. Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees
  8. New Polish PM brings same old government

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  3. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  4. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  5. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  6. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  7. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  9. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  10. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level