Tuesday

12th Nov 2019

Poland unlikely to face EU discipline on rule of law

  • Frans Timmermans reported back to the MEPs on his latest exchanges with the Polish government.

The European Commission will not try to impose sanctions on Poland over its breaches of the rule of law any time soon.

Commission vice president Frans Timmermans, in charge of the procedure that was launched more than a year ago, told MEPs on Wednesday (22 March) that the previous concerns still remained.

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

"The Polish government hasn't given us any reasons for optimism. The situation is getting worse," he told members of the civic liberties committee.

Beata Szydlo's government still refuses to publish some of the rulings of the constitutional court and the president Andrzej Duda has blocked judges appointed by the last parliament from being sworn in.

Last December the Polish parliament appointed a new president of the constitutional court, in a way that the commission says was a breach of the constitution.

It was the first time that Timmermans spoke on the matter since Poland last month handed in its response to the commission's second batch of recommendations on how to protect rule of law in the country, on top of earlier guidelines issued last July.

Poland dismissed the recommendations as "political interference" and largely ignored them.

But Timmermans ruled out moving the procedure to the next step, which would entail punishing Poland with sanctions, as laid down in Article 7 of the EU treaty.

"I think that invoking Article 7 now would be self-defeating and will not help us in the wider context of what is still going on," Timmermans said.

Bad time for sanctions

EU governments are reluctant to back such a measure, which would have to be imposed by unanimity in the EU Council, representing member states.

Hungary's Viktor Orban and UK's Theresa May are likely to wield their veto. Others fear that EU sanctions of a national government would only add to the many challenges the EU is already facing, not least, the launch of Brexit negotiations.

The commission would also likely struggle to find the necessary number of countries to establish that there was a threat to the rule of law in Poland. This step, unlike the unanimity on sanctions, requires the backing of 22 member states.

In one indication, only 15 countries are part of an informal "Friends of rule of law” group, which gathers EU ministers and MEPs, and in which the Polish question has been unofficially discussed.

The only representative from central and eastern Europe was Estonia, which often defines itself as a Nordic country.

The European Parliament could also confirm the threat to the rule of law by two-thirds of MEPs, but few of them are keen to do that. Instead, they want the commission to do its part and then let blame for vetoes fall on the council.

"Sometimes I am tempted to be the biggest hero for a day and just invoke Article 7," Timmermans said, referring to the EU treaty clause that governs the sanctions procedure.

"Nothing would happen, but at least we would have done our duty," he said.

He added that such a step would end the commission's powers to monitor the situation in Poland.

Instead, Timmermans has asked Malta, which holds the EU Council presidency, to put Poland on the agenda for a discussion. The general affairs council (GAC), the meeting of EU affairs ministers, has a scheduled rule-of-law debate in May, where the rule of law in Poland could fit in nicely.

Other instruments

The Swedish EU affairs minister, Ann Linde, told EUobserver in a recent interview that many of her colleagues saw a need to strengthen EU rule of law mechanisms.

"We have comprehensive measures to control budgetary spendings, but not the rule of law or social issues," Linde said, adding that rule of law was "so much higher on the agenda that just two years ago."

Timmermans didn't rule out the need for other instruments, such as an EU pact on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights, which the parliament called for last year.

Meanwhile, he placed his hopes with the Polish people.

"I am confident in the resilience of Polish society. Their attachment to the EU and its values is strong," Timmermans said.

Poland faces 'nuclear option' of EU sanctions

The EU Commission could ask member states to impose sanctions against Poland for its breach of the rule of law in a crucial meeting, though experts say the country is unlikely to be punished.

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.

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.

Tusk dragged into 'political' spy probe

EU Council chief appeared as witness in a Russian spy probe in Warsaw amid increasingly toxic political climate in one of the Union's largest states.

Tusk summoned again to Polish court

EU president said he may use diplomatic immunity to decline invitations to appear as a witness in Polish cases if they start to interfere with his work.

News in Brief

  1. Belgian asylum centre set on fire
  2. Xi Jingping in Athens promises new investment
  3. Farage's Brexit Party will not stand in Tory-held seats
  4. British founder of Syrian 'White Helmets' found dead
  5. Eight member states ask for EU aviation tax
  6. EU allocates €55m humanitarian aid to Sudan
  7. EU's climate contribution exceeds €20bn annually
  8. EU-Singapore trade deal enters into force this month

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

EP president threatens MEP with sanctions over a tweet

The president of the European parliament, David Sassoli, has threatened the leader the leftist GUE/NGL group, Manon Aubry, over a tweet in which she encouraged the eco-activist group Extinction Rebellion to occupy the European parliament.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. EU 'climate bank' won't rule out carbon capture
  2. New hearings for the von der Leyen commission This WEEK
  3. Bosnia wants explanation for Macron's 'time-bomb' remark
  4. MEPs slam Commission over common charger delay
  5. Erdogan: refugees will enter Europe unless EU does more
  6. Cleaning up both the EU and Western Balkans
  7. Can Sunday's election end Spain's endless deadlock?
  8. Up to 750 European children trapped in north-east Syria

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us