Sunday

17th Jan 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

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 court and Irish dog make history
  2. EU plans to pay farmers to reduce animal emissions
  3. Greece agrees to buy 18 French fighter jets
  4. France tightens curfew in EU corona-mosaic
  5. Von der Leyen red-faced over Croatia election video
  6. Romania to reopen schools after three-month shutdown
  7. Dutch government on brink of collapse over child allowances
  8. Netherlands loses EU court case on asylum boy

EU pushes back against rising homophobia

The EU Commission plans a proposal to ensure recognition children-parent relations in cross border situations, and legislation to support the mutual recognition of parenthood between member states.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. Dutch government resigns two months before election
  2. The battle for Germany's ruling party that will change Europe
  3. Potential for future pandemics? 'Extremely high,' MEPs told
  4. Can EU keep Navalny safe as he 'defies' Putin?
  5. Italy government totters ahead of €200bn EU covid relief
  6. How to fix EU's weak Digital Services and Markets Acts
  7. Italy's government is like Schrödinger's cat
  8. MEPs to debate Portugal's EU prosecutor controversy

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us