Tuesday

25th Apr 2017

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"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.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Controlling the right of repeal

There was a distinct air of finality about Sir Tim Barrow's personal delivery of the Article 50 letter in Brussels – it certainly marks the end of an era.

Be fair in Brexit talks, EU tells UK

European Council chief Tusk sent draft guidelines to member states. He said the EU wants "fairness" and then warned against using security cooperation as bargaining chip.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  2. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  3. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  4. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  5. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  6. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  7. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  9. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  10. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  11. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society

Latest News

  1. Le Pen-Poutine: des liens qui remontent à loin
  2. Juncker breaks tradition with support for Macron
  3. Les fake news inondent les réseaux sociaux français
  4. Les amis de Le Pen à la Trump Tower
  5. France's election run-off will be far-right versus EU
  6. Alternative for Germany party refuses to shun extreme right
  7. Brexit summit, Turkey and Hungary dominate EU This WEEK
  8. Russia threat triggers European military spending hike