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21st Jan 2018

EU urges Poland to respect constitution

  • Timmermans: "I strongly believe that in any EU member state, the rule of law should be respected by all and should be strengthened" (Photo: European Commission)

Respect of constitutional rulings is the "starting point" for any dialogue on the rule of law in Poland, European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans told the Polish government in Warsaw on Tuesday (5 April).

Timmermans spoke amidst a dispute between the country’s Constitutional Tribunal and the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

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The government had installed loyalist judges and altered the way the court makes decisions. The court then overturned the changes, but PiS did not recognise its ruling, creating a legal deadlock.

Wider concerns over PiS attempts to seize control of state media and controversial nominations in state bodies also prompted Timmermans to launch an EU rule of law monitoring procedure in January.

Timmermans on Tuesday met with Polish foreign affairs minister Witold Waszczykowski, deputy prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, the president of the Constitutional Tribunal Andrzej Rzeplinski and justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro.

Timmermans’ comments did not indicate any progress in the so-called "structured dialogue" on how to balance respect for Polish sovereignty with respect for EU juridical and democratic standards.

"I strongly believe that in any EU member state, the rule of law should be respected by all and should be strengthened," Timmermans told journalists.

He said the commission would do "whatever we can to help" to find a solution to the constitutional crisis but added that dialogue should start on the basis of “full respect for the existing constitutional order".

"The starting point should be full respect for the rulings of the constitutional tribunal, rulings that in my view should be published and implemented," he said.

Since the court issued its ruling on 10 March, the government has refused to publish it in the official gazette, which means it cannot enter life.

Possible consensus

In a letter to the commission last week, leaked to Gazeta Wyborcza, the Polish EU affairs minister Konrad Szymanski repeated that the Constitutional Tribunal did not have the legal right to rule over its own reform.

Szymanski also said that a group of experts appointed by the speaker of the parliament would work on recommendations to implement "to the greatest extent possible" demands put forward by the Venice Commission, a Council of Europe body.

In a report in March, the Venice Commission said constitutional reforms by the government "would undermine democracy, human rights and the rule of law" if they were not changed.

Timmermans' visit to Warsaw followed a visit by the Council of Europe secretary-general Thorbjoern Jagland on Monday.

After meeting with president Andrzej Duda and prime minister Beata Szydlo, Jagland said he believed a "constitutional consensus was possible". But he said that he was concerned that complaints would be filed to the European Court of Human Rights if the Polish judiciary was weakened by the constitutional crisis.

Timmermans said he would go back to Warsaw in two weeks. On Wednesday he will report to the college of commissioners.

In March, a commission spokesman said the college would "revisit the issue after Easter on the basis of the recommendation" given by Timmermans.

Opinion

Moment of truth in Polish constitutional dispute

The Venice Commission report, out on Friday, gives the ruling PiS party a chance to retreat from their illiberal course. The EU should seize the moment to support PiS moderates.

Poland's constitutional dispute escalates

Activists have begun camping outside the prime minister's office in Warsaw after the government refused to recognise a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal.

MEPs to warn of risk to Polish democracy

Polish authorities have put "constitutional democracy" at risk, says a draft resolution to be voted on in the EU Parliament. It calls for further action if they don't change tack.

Polish farmland bill may breach EU law

With a bill adopted Thursday, the Polish government wants to impose rigid rules on who can buy farmland and forests. Some lawyers reckon the EU might end up taking Warsaw to court.

European experts to probe Polish police law

The Council of Europe is sending a team to Poland to investigate fears that a new law will give police too much power, as the supreme court weighs into a row over legal reform.

Polish government promises constitutional reform

As Poland celebrates Constitution Day, the president says the current basic law should better reflect "modernity", amid a bitter fight over his party's attempts to reform the constitutional court.

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