26th Oct 2016

EU confrontation with Poland escalates

  • Polish government said EU action is "premature" (Photo: Giuseppe Milo)

The European Commission has given Poland three months to take action to protect the rule of law in the country or else face possible sanctions.

EU commission vice-president Frans Timmermans on Wednesday (27 July) told reporters Polish authorities have failed to guarantee the independence of its courts.

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In a separate statement issued to the press, the commission said it "believes that there is a systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland."

Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party last year refused to recognise rulings by the country's constitutional court and curtailed its powers. It had also attempted to fill it with judges of its own choosing after sacking five that had been appointed by the previous government.

The move has created a tense standoff between Poland and the commission ever since January.

The Brussels-executive had earlier highlighted the problems in an opinion, but it remained unsatisfied by the Polish response on Wednesday.

Poland on 22 July had adopted a new law on the constitutional tribunal in an effort to address the outstanding issues raised by the commission.

But a review of the new Polish law has failed to impress.

"Our conclusion is that the fundamental concerns are still unresolved. This new law did not address the threat to the rule of law in Poland," said Timmermans.

Timmermans said "integrity, stability, and proper functioning" of Poland's constitutional court remained at risk.

The commission also noted that issues such as the publication and implementation of the judgments and the swearing in of the judges remained unaddressed.

Poland, for its part, was not receptive to the criticism.

In a statement, Poland's ministry of foreign affairs described the commission's measures as "very premature."

"They put the EC at risk of losing its authority, which it needs to fulfil its functions as set out in the Treaties," it said.

Wednesday's recommendation is stage two in a three-step process that could lead to stripping Poland of its voting rights.

Should Poland fail to reform its law then the EU could launch the “article 7 procedure”, based on a passage in the EU treaty.

The procedure, which has never before been triggered, could lead to the suspension of Poland's voting rights in the Council.

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