Thursday

19th Apr 2018

EU threatens to throw the book at Poland

  • Timmermans with Polish PM Beata Szydlo - the year-long row on judicial reform keeps getting worse (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Commission has renewed its threat to seek sanctions against Poland in a rule-of-law dispute.

"There's no way we can drop the issue … the Commission will use every instrument at its disposal when the separation of powers is at risk," Commission deputy head Frans Timmermans said at the European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday (31 August).

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has set Poland on EU collision course (Photo: ois.org.pl)

"This Commission will take its duty seriously even if, politically, this might be extremely difficult," he said.

His mention of "every instrument" referred to article 7 of the EU treaty, under which a member state can lose its vote in the Council if it is deemed to be in "serious breach" of EU values.

The unprecedented move would need Council unanimity, but Timmermans said "a very broad majority" of EU states were already unhappy with the Polish government.

He spoke after Poland rejected as "groundless" the Commission's complaint that the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party was trying to seize control of Polish courts.

The Commission is still analysing Poland's 12-page long statement of reasoning.

Timmermans said on Thursday: "I cannot tell you [MEPs] today what will be the next step". But he refuted Poland's main arguments - that the Commission had no jurisdiction on the issue and that the PiS reforms were normal.

"I honestly would beg to differ … there's no other member state where the minister of justice can arbitrarily fire judges without any conditions," he said.

"If you go back to a situation where the rulings of a court are determined by a call from party central then we have a problem", he said.

He noted that Poland had also ignored an EU court order to stop logging in Bialowierza, a primeval forest, and an EU Council vote to take in asylum seekers.

He said the Polish case was of central importance.

"It is who we are and what defines us as Europeans - a rule of law-based democracy," he said.

Getting personal

Marek Jurek, a right-wing Polish MEP, defended PiS in the EU parliament hearing.

He said Timmermans should not make threats because only EU states had a mandate to decide on Poland.

Jurek said all that the Commission could do was to "submit a request [for sanctions] to the Council and wait patiently for its decision".

"The European Commission has to respect the fact that there is no unanimity among member states when it comes to accusations against Poland," the MEP said.

He accused Timmermans of siding with the Polish opposition and of "Marxism, which treated laws as an instrument in the hands of power".

Other Polish MEPs heckled Timmermans in Thursday's unruly hearing, yelling out "It's not true!" as he spoke.

Udo Voigt, a far-right German MEP, accused him of attacking Poland under false pretences.

"You [Timmermans] don't really give a toss about the [Bialowierza] forest being cut down", he said.

Dangerous, populist

The main groups in the EU assembly were on the Commission's side.

Roberta Metsola, a Maltese MEP from the centre-right EPP group, said what PiS was doing was "dangerous, it is populist, and, crucially, it is legally flawed".

A Swedish liberal deputy, Cecilia Wikstroem, said: "Where they [PiS] have failed, we will prevail".

PiS' actions amounted to a "systematic withdrawal from the rule of law", Judith Sargentini, a Dutch Green MEP, said.

Timmermans said he had invited Polish ministers to discuss the issues with him in Brussels. They did not reply to him, but they told Polish media they would not come.

He said PiS had demanded "respect", but that "this has not really been reciprocated, may I say, in the least".

"I don't care if they want to continue to attack me personally and call me stupid and incompetent and so on," he said.

Divided Europe

He said PiS was wrong to claim that the Commission was trying to infringe on Polish sovereignty.

"Poland today is more sovereign, more free, and more secure than for centuries in the past. It has been perhaps 1,000 years since Polish people have been as free to decide about their own destiny," Timmermans said, referring to Poland's EU membership and to its history of German and Russian partitions.

With Thursday's hearing setting a divisive note after the EU institutions' summer break, the commissioner said European unity had geopolitical value.

"Whoever is in charge in Russia today would like to see a divided Europe", he said.

Poland vows legal battle on migrant quotas

One minister accused Commission of putting a terrorist "noose around Europe's neck", as Poland vowed to see the EU in court on migrant relocations.

Poland: Multi-speed EU could 'break apart'

Poland has warned that French idea of multi-speed Europe could "break apart" the EU, as Warsaw heads for confrontation with Brussels on rule of law.

News in Brief

  1. MEPs urge better protection for journalists
  2. Dieselgate: MEPs back greater role for EU in car approvals
  3. European parliament adopts new organic farming rules
  4. EU granted protection to half million people in 2017
  5. Report: Facebook to carve 1.5bn users out of EU privacy law
  6. Greek court ruling permits migrants to travel to mainland
  7. Commonwealth summit hopes for trade boost after Brexit
  8. Merkel and Macron meet to finetune eurozone reform plans

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeParabéNs! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  2. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  3. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  4. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  5. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  6. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  10. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector

Latest News

  1. Obscurity surrounds EU military fund's expert groups
  2. New EU party finance rules short circuit accountability
  3. Draghi to stay in secretive 'lobby' group
  4. Bulgaria offers lesson in tackling radical-right populists
  5. Getting secret EU trilogue documents: a case study
  6. Selmayr case scars Parliament and Commission
  7. Beyond macho: Turkish-EU ties
  8. 'Flobert' guns - Europe's latest terror loophole

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  2. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  3. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  4. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  5. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  6. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  7. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  8. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  9. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  10. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  11. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  12. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership