Thursday

21st Nov 2019

Poland 'optimistic' despite new EU law checks

  • Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki spoke to press after meeting German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The European Commission is to propose annual rule-of-law checks on all EU states amid tensions with Hungary, Poland, and Romania.

Its proposal, to be unveiled in Brussels on Wednesday (17 July), is to model the legal screening on the annual fiscal reviews carried out by EU officials on national debt and deficits, according to the Reuters news agency.

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It would also include a yearly high-level EU conference on rule of law with NGOs and academics to highlight abuse, Reuters added.

EU interior ministers are likely to discuss the idea when they meet in Brussels on Thursday.

The proposal comes after EU institutions triggered sanctions procedures against Hungary and Poland for meddling with their courts and other abuses of EU democratic norms.

The European Commission also warned Romania on sanctions and won a court injunction to stop Poland firing its Supreme Court judges.

The sanctions could, in theory, see Hungary and Poland's votes suspended in the EU Council.

But such a move would require unanimity, with Budapest and Warsaw pledging to veto each other's punishments, and with Lithuania's new president Gitanas Nauseda, also promising to shield Poland.

"We should not be pursuing the path of sanctions, but the path of a better mutual understanding," Nauseda said in Warsaw on Tuesday.

The sanctions threats were a "form of oppression", Polish president Andrzej Duda added.

Hungary and Poland had previously complained they were being singled out unfairly and the proposed annual reviews of all 28 EU countries could help to take the heat off their administrations.

Acting as a bloc with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, they lobbied against the nomination of Dutch commissioner Frans Timmermans - who oversaw the EU sanctions process - to be the next commission chief.

The German minister who got the post on Tuesday, Ursula von der Leyen, has also said she would take a hard line, including EU budget cuts for unruly capitals.

Timmermans' future role in her commission remains uncertain, however.

She also had to rely on the votes of MEPs from Poland's ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), in order to secure her nomination in a European Parliament vote.

And for his part, the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, hinted in Berlin on Tuesday that there was a quid pro quo.

He said Poland had wanted a commission chief who "built bridges" instead of one [Timmermans] who "lectures, scolds, divides, and creates conflicts in Europe".

German chancellor Angela Merkel had earlier phoned him to solicit PiS' support for von der Leyen, Morawiecki told press alongside Merkel in the German capital.

"I am a cautious optimist. I believe we will have a partner on the other side completely different from the one [Timmermans] who posed a threat to central Europe by his lack of understanding and unfair treatment of Poland," Morawiecki added.

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