Wednesday

20th Nov 2019

EU ministers struggle to deal with Poland and Hungary

  • Szabolcs Takacs, Hungary's state secretary, and Konrad Szymanski, Poland's minister for EU affairs talk with Didier Reynders, Belgium's foreign minister on the sidelines of the meeting (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU affairs ministers on Tuesday (16 October) discussed the rule of law in Poland and Hungary and how to move forward procedures that are designed to keep a check on member states that breach EU values and rules.

On Poland, after two rounds of earlier discussions where Warsaw had presented its own views on its internal judicial reform that the EU Commission deemed problematic, ministers this time talked about the latest developments.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans expressed concern that the situation in Poland has deteriorated since the ministers last put the issue on their agenda.

The EU executive recently referred Poland to the EU's top court over its controversial 'reform' of the supreme court, which could force 40 percent of its judges out via early retirement. The commission sees this an attempt to put the court under political control.

Warsaw argues the reforms are needed to get rid of the last remnants of from the communist era, after courts had failed to modernise.

The European Court of Justice is expected to introduce so-called 'interim measures', which would call on the Polish authorities to suspend the implementation of the reform of the supreme court until the ECJ's ruling.

The attempt to remove some supreme court judges is just the latest in a series of measures by the nationalist Warsaw government of the Law and Justice party (PiS) that has raised concerns at the commission, which launched the Article 7 sanctions procedure last year.

Timmermans told reporters after the meeting that he was worried that the Polish government would not wait for the ECJ's ruling. Poland's president Andrzej Duda swore in 27 new supreme court judges last week, stepping up the pace of the conflict over control of the judiciary.

"Sadly, things have not improved, they have deteriorated," Timmermans said.

"[It is] especially disappointing that now there is a procedure at the European Court of Justice, and the Polish authorities have not used the fact that there this procedure to stop the implementation of the reform of the supreme court, in fact they speeded up that process by nominating ever more judges to the court," he added.

Timmermans also expressed concern over reports of intimidation of judges by the Polish authorities who turned to EU court for an assessment of the reforms.

Timmermans told ministers that the intimidation of judges in Poland could affect the judicial systems in other EU countries, as Ireland and the Netherlands have already expressed concern over Poland's rule of law in extradition cases.

Around ten member states' delegations spoke out in support of the concerns expressed by the commission.

They emphasised the need for tangible results and expressed regret that despite the ongoing dialogue with the Polish authorities, nothing has happened on the ground.

A hearing is possible again on Poland at the next meeting, as ministers take a step back to wait for the ECJ's ruling on the supreme court reform.

Hungary procedure

The EU's other 'problem child', Hungary, was also on the agenda of the ministers.

Last month in an unprecedented move, the European Parliament triggered the Article 7 procedure against Hungary over rule of law concerns and a backsliding on democratic values.

Article 7 can be launched by either the parliament, the commission or a third of the member states in the council, but the procedure of checking if a particular member state is in breach of EU rules and values and acting on it, is the responsibility of the council.

The parliament's president Antonio Tajani sent a letter to the Austrian presidency of the council asking for a role for the parliament in the procedure among ministers.

This presents an institutional dilemma for member states as the parliament does not have a role in the council, according to the council's legal service, and countries do not want to create a precedent.

However, several member states supported a pragmatic approach to include the parliament in a way, without breaking council rules. A decision on the procedure will be made later.

In the meantime, the ministers asked Hungary to submit a written statement on the parliament's rule of law report, and an "up-to-date, factual" overview from the commission on infringement procedures that the EU executive launched against Hungary.

There was no timeline set for the two statements to be submitted, and EU diplomats will tackle the procedural issues before the topic will be put on ministers' agenda again.

Both the Polish and Hungarian cases are highly sensitive - EU member states are reluctant to discipline each other, and are eager to be seen as driving an impartial procedure.

In addition, both Poland and Hungary have said they would vote against any sanctions proposed on the other, blocking the possibility of any disciplinary measures in the future.

Poland to face EU top court on rule of law

The EU commission is expected to refer Poland to the EU's top court over firing supreme court judges, but Warsaw refused to commit on Tuesday that it will implement future EU court rulings.

Hungary vote exposes EU rift on populism

MEPs will vote next week on whether to urge member states to investigate Hungary on EU values. Budapest calls it "liberal fundamentalism", with the EPP in a difficult position.

Opinion

Know your enemy

By sidelining Soviet-era graduates of Russia's most prestigious academic institution - the Moscow State Institute of International Relations - Warsaw is failing to learn a key lesson: Know Your Enemy.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary, Poland block EU conclusions on rule of law
  2. France: wide EU backing for enlargement change
  3. EU Council calls for policy action to protect marine life
  4. ECJ: Poland's judicial independence in doubt
  5. Suspected 'middleman' in Caruana Galizia case arrested
  6. European populists more favourable to Russia
  7. Hungary's new commissioner approved by MEPs
  8. Balkan coal power plants fail to meet emissions targets

Stalling on VAT reform costing billions, says Commission

German media outlet Correctiv, along with other newsrooms, have revealed how criminals annually cheat EU states out of billions in VAT fraud. The EU Commission says solutions exist - but member states refuse to budge on tax unanimity.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us