Wednesday

21st Nov 2018

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 commission threatens disciplinary procedure on Italy's budget
  2. MEPs delay vote on greater transparency
  3. Interpol rejects Russian candidate after outcry
  4. Investors seek compensation for Danske Bank losses
  5. Analysis: one-in-four Europeans vote populist
  6. Italy moves to seize Aquarius for illegal waste disposal
  7. EU parliament approves Italian to check European banks
  8. EU agrees tightening rules on foreign strategic investment

Opinion

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

Opinion

On Armistice Day, EU is still best gift we can give our children

While young people fought each other in 1918, young people in 2018 travel to study together under the Erasmus programme. But there is a risk of limiting our commemoration to representing the past through just speeches, museum exhibits and visits.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  9. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  10. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  11. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue

Latest News

  1. Revealed: 98% of EU 'expert groups' take place in private
  2. EU commission warns Italy on budget, moves towards fines
  3. Challenges for new Franco-German eurozone plan
  4. EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection
  5. Deutsche Bank dragged into Danish bank scandal
  6. New EU human rights sanctions to focus on Africa
  7. Boycott threats mount on eve of Interpol election
  8. EU parliament to renege on transparency promises

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  2. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  4. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  10. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  11. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us