Thursday

2nd Apr 2020

EU commission increases pressure on Poland

  • The constitutional tribunal is at the heart of the Polish political crisis. (Photo: Lukas Plewnia)

The EU Commission hopes to increase pressure on Poland ahead of the debate between commissioners next Wednesday (13 January) on the constitutional crisis in the eastern European EU member state, although no decision is expected.

The new Polish government led by the right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) inserted friendly judges into the constitutional tribunal and made it harder for the tribunal to stop new laws, prompting a constitutional crisis.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

It also rushed through a controversial media law giving the government direct control over top appointments in public broadcasting, a move criticised by Guenther Oettinger the German EU commissioner for digital economy.

The vice-president of the commission in charge of overseeing the rule of law, Frans Timmermans, wrote two letters to Warsaw in which he requested information on the legislation.

The Polish government is yet to return with an answer, though there is no set deadline for them to comment.

Last Sunday (3 January), the EU Commission, in an effort put political pressure on Poland, noted that the debate next Wednesday could open the so-called rule of law mechanism, a process for checking the health of the democracy in a member state, which could eventually result in the suspension of voting rights in the Council of the European Union.

However, the bloc's executive has since backtracked and now says the meeting next Wednesday will be only a first debate on recent events, "taking stock" of political movements in Warsaw.

Timmermans, Oettinger and justice commissioner Vera Jourova are expected to prepare a detailed report for commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

One source said that Juncker's cabinet chief, Martin Selmayr, wanted to put extra pressure on the Polish government with the threat of launching the process as early as next week, but that some commissioners were urging for more caution.

Selmayr is very familiar with rule of law issues, as he served as chief of cabinet for former justice commissioner Viviane Reding, who has was at the forefront of similar debates with Hungary in the previous commission.

Even if the commission decides to launch the procedure, first it needs to analyse the situation in Poland and then come up with recommendations.

The day before the gathering of the college of commissioners will be crucial, as Poland's constitutional tribunal is to hold a meeting on Tuesday (12 January); its president has pledged not to involve the newly appointed members, which could mean a further escalation of the crisis.

Nevertheless, the commission is keen to act as fast as possible.

The view in the Berlaymont building of the commission is that revamping the constitutional tribunal effectively abolishes the checks and balances in Poland's democracy.

Officials suggest neighbouring Germany, a political heavyweight in the EU, is also very much interested in stopping Poland's slide towards populism.

Dismantling the constitutional tribunal in Poland has hit a particular nerve in Germany which holds its constitutional court in Karlsruhe in high regard and is a symbol of its exit from totalitarianism.

The rule of law mechanism was created in 2014 after it became clear that the EU had limited tools to deal with member states that passed controversial legislation challenging the fundamental values of the bloc, as highlighted by several years of political battle between Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban and Brussels.

It has never been tested, but its purpose is to deal with systematic problems in a country without resorting to the so-called Article 7 procedure that could eventually see the suspension of voting rights of the member state concerned.

Another way the EU could make Poland steer back from its course is the suspension of EU funds to the country, but officials insist that that is not on the table as reneging on operational contracts could mean opening "Pandora's box."

EU commission criticism upsets Warsaw

The Polish foreign ministry has summoned the European Commission’s top official in Warsaw to clarify criticism of its new media law.

Agenda

Poland in spotlight This WEEK

Poland in spotlight this week as EU commission discusses its controversial new laws, while the EU continues to put pressure on Turkey to stem the flow of migrants.

Five new post-Brexit MEPs to watch

Five MEPs to keep an eye on from the 27 new members who are joining the European Parliament this week, following the UK's departure from the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. Journalism hit hard by corona crisis
  2. EU fighting shortages and faulty medical supplies
  3. New EU navy operation to keep migrant details secret
  4. MEP: Constituents are our window into this tragedy
  5. Without European patriotism, EU decline is inevitable
  6. EU cancels April Fool's 'fake news'
  7. A coronavirus 'Marshall Plan' alone won't be nearly enough
  8. Trying to think straight about coronavirus

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us