Poland questions legality of EU probe
Poland has questioned the legal legitimacy of the European Commission’s rule of law monitoring procedure on the eve of a potentially damning decision.
"The procedure that is currently being used against us is a non-treaty procedure, a made-up one, and it can be challenged in the Court of Justice of the European Union at any moment”, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the powerful head of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, told Do Rzeczy, a Polish weekly, in an interview out on Monday (30 May).
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“If it gets fierce, we will do this”, he said.
"European centres do not respect [member states’] … sovereignty, which means they don't respect Poland and don't respect the Poles," he added.
The Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, the same day also told Polish broadcaster TVN24 that the “legitimacy” of the procedure is open to debate because it is not part of the EU’s 2010 Lisbon Treaty.
“It’s not based on the treaties, it’s based on a certain practice, invented by European Union officials, not even of a high rank but of a middle rank”, he said.
“The European Commission has the right to make suggestions, proposals, to give advice. But Commission officials, who are chosen on the basis of political deals between states, should not judge member states, they’re not there for that,” he added.
The dispute arose after PiS, which came to power last October, installed loyalist judges in the country’s highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal, and watered down the court’s ability to vet new laws.
The court rejected the changes, but PiS did not recognise its rejection nor publish it in the country’s official gazette, creating a legal limbo.
The commission has drafted a report on the situation in line with the new monitoring mechanism, created in 2014.
If the report is published it would make Poland the first country in EU history not just to face monitoring but to also go to stage two of the process.
EU sources familiar with the text told EUobserver that it accused Poland of breaking democratic standards, referenced a similar verdict by the Venice Commission, a panel of judicial experts at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and gave Poland two weeks to take remedial action.
If Poland does not comply, the procedure could end in suspension of Warsaw's voting rights in the EU Council.
Commission deputy head Frans Timmermans had threatened to publish the paper on Monday, but he held back pending the outcome of talks with Polish PM Beata Szydlo. The publication could now take place after the 28 commissioners meet on Wednesday.
'Readiness for dialogue'
Kaczynski, in his interview, outlined Poland’s compromise proposal.
“On all the issues on the functioning of the court, such as the majority needed to take decisions, the duration [of the judges’ terms] - we can talk about that by all means”, he said.
He said he is ready to publish the tribunal’s rejection of the changes in Poland's official gazette but only as a “historic” text and not as a binding verdict.
But he said the new PiS-loyal judges must stay in place and must play a full role in court decisions.
Waszczykowski said that the Commission had “no grounds to initiate any type of punitive procedure” because PiS had shown “readiness for dialogue”.
He said that Timmermans knew “how far Poland could be ready to compromise” but that the Polish opposition was trying to use the issue as “an instrument of political infighting”.
Kaczynski, in his interview with Do Rzeczy, also attacked EU Council chief Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister with the now opposition Civic Platform party.
The PiS chief said Poland might not back Tusk to stay in his EU post for another two and half years after his current term expires in mid-2017.
He said Tusk "scored negative points" because he met in Brussels with Mateusz Kijowski, the head of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, an anti-PiS protest movement.
He added that if Polish people get top jobs abroad, they “should not hurt Poland's interests … If they are over there, they should not be a party in the conflicts taking place here”.