Monday

27th Sep 2021

EU commission puts Poland on the hook

  • Pro-free media rally in Warsaw on 9 January (Photo: Grzegorz Zukowski)

The European Commission has triggered rule-of-law monitoring of Poland, in an unprecedented step, prompted by constitutional and media reforms.

“We have decided that the commission will carry out a preliminary assessment under the rule-of-law framework,” Frans Timmermans, the Dutch EU commissioner, who handles the dossier, said in Brussels on Wednesday (13 January), after internal talks.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

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

... or subscribe as a group

It’s the first time the commission has used the instrument, which is designed to prevent breaches of EU law and prinicples.

Behind closed doors, EU commissioners discussed controversial new measures by the Polish goverment, after the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party changed the rules of Poland’s constitutional tribunal and replaced heads of public media with loyalists.

“The rulings of the constitutional court are currently not respected, which is a serious matter,” Timmermans warned.

He said the commission doesn’t want to interfere in the internal politics of EU countries.

“The aim is to start a dialogue with Polish authorities, without prejudging next steps,” Timmermans said.

Protecting democracy

“The internal politics of Poland don’t concern me. I don’t know about it. I don’t want to know about it … I’m simply looking at the measures taken and how they relate to the rule of law in Poland,” he added.

“Our aim is to solve these issue, not to accuse, to go into a polemic.”

Wednesday’s monitoring decision comes amid an exchange of letters between Brussels and Warsaw.

In the latest, Timmermans, on Wednesday, wrote to Polish justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro informing him of the decision and asking extra questions on the constitutional and media changes.

The text, seen by EUobserver, says the commission “does not wish to put into question the democratic choices made by the Polish people”.

It adds that: “Democracy is protected if the fundamental role of the judiciary, including constitutional courts, can ensure freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and respect of the rules governing the political and electoral processes.”

It also calls for an urgent meeting in Brussels or Warsaw.

It comes after Ziobro, earlier this week, in his letter accused Timmermans of “left-wing” bias, ignorance, and “unjustified accusations”.

A Polish junior minister, in an earlier letter on the media, was equally defiant.

Asked about Ziobro’s confrontational words, Timmermans told reporters on Wednesday: “I think the Polish government wants a dialogue regardless of the tone of the letter.”

According to several sources, the 28 commissioners agreed unanimously to go ahead with the rule-of-law framework.

One source said the decision came despite an appeal by Polish PM Beata Szydlo, made by phone on Tuesday to commission head Jean-Claude Juncker, to get Poland off the commission agenda, on grounds that such a move was unproductive.

The first stage of the framework is a dialogue with Polish authorities, which might lead to commission recommendations.

If Poland does not tweak its legislation or fulfil the commission recommendations some other way, the EU executive can trigger a subsequent procedure that could end in EU sanctions against Poland.

'Provocations must end'

The commission will come back to the issue in March, after the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, issues an opinion on Poland’s constitutional reforms.

Poland is also on the European Parliament agenda next week, with Szydlo expected to field questions in the Strasbourg plenary session.

For is part, Poland’s EU affairs minister, Konrad Szymanski, said in Brussels on Wednesday that Poland was ready to answer all the commission’s questions. “We are convinced that this situation will quickly end well,” he said.

He added, however: “I have the feeling that the European Commission is risking taking sides in a political dispute inside Poland.”

He also declined to apologise for the tone of the political rhetoric, with Ziobro, at one point, also writing a letter to Berlin which compared EU monitoring to the Nazi occupation of Poland.

“In recent weeks, we’ve been provoked by various politicians … Who sows the wind, reaps the storm. The provocations must end by saying something stronger,” Szymanski said, Polish TV reports.

EUobserved

How to build an illiberal democracy in the EU

With Brussels increasingly worried by Poland, we take a look how Hungary's Viktor Orban created a template for dismantling democratic checks and balances inside an EU state.

Opinion

Poles must defend hard-won democracy

The Law and Justice party is chipping away at Poland's hard-won democracy. Now polls are showing that many people are unhappy with the changes, and a new alliance around the Committee for the Defence of Democracy has sprung up.

EP debate on Poland could turn into 'carnage'

Polish PM Szydlo to confront EU critics on the state of Polish democracy. The EPP might try to defuse tension. The UK's likely to back her. But sources predict "carnage."

Opinion

End of the line for Warsaw Express?

From Warsaw to Budapest and beyond, the EU must protect civil society, judicial independence and freedom of expression. All are vital in the fight against corruption.

EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map

The European Commission has proposed additional measures to limit non-essential travel within and to the European Union - amid fears over more transmissible mutations triggering a new surge in cases across the bloc.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. Scaling up tidal requires flood of new cash
  2. German coalition calculus dominates This WEEK
  3. No clear winner to succeed Merkel in Germany
  4. Banks fuelling expansion of oil-and-gas Arctic extraction
  5. The dilemma of Europe's returning female jihadis
  6. Why Draghi could be a two-term prime-minister
  7. Activists: 'More deaths' expected on Polish-Belarus border
  8. EU unveils common charger plan - forcing Apple redesign

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us