Sunday

24th Mar 2019

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

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join 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

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.

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."

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Opinion

Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

Orban hosts Weber in Budapest for EPP showdown

The future of the Viktor Orban's Fidesz party inside the European Parliament's centre-right EPP political group hangs in the balance. On Tuesday, Orban and EPP chief Manfred Weber meet in Budapest in a final effort to iron out differences.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us