Friday

22nd Jun 2018

EU ready to step up Polish monitoring

The European Commission is ready to present its opinion on the rule of law in Poland, marking the second step in a unique EU investigation.

The college of commissioners on Wednesday (18 May) discussed the issue after vice-president Frans Timmermans briefed his colleagues on the situation in Poland.

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Timmermans is leading a rule of law monitoring procedure launched in January by the commission.

The commission said it would publish its report on Monday (23 May) unless the Polish government makes ”significant progress” to address his concerns before that date.

The affair arose when the Polish government tried to install new judges in Poland’s supreme court and to curtail the tribunal’s powers.

The Venice Commission, a panel of European legal experts, earlier this year condemned the reform.

The EU monitoring procedure, created in 2014, had never been used before in any member state.

If the EU publishes Timmermans’ report, Poland will again make history by being the first-ever member state to go to stage two of the process, which can end in sanctions.

Poland’s state secretary for European affairs, Konrad Szymanski, ruled out a quick breakthrough, however.

”We need more time to execute our plan … We understand Monday as an auxiliary date in the consultation process,” he said in Warsaw on Wednesday.

Ryszard Terlecki, a deputy from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, also made light of the EU deadline.

”We have our own schedule,” he said.

Party leaders were due to meet in Warsaw on Wednesday to discuss the issue. But upon hearing the news from Brussels, opposition leaders postponed the meeting until Monday afternoon.

There are various proposals in the Polish parliament on how to proceed.

The populist Kukiz’15 movement and the agrarian People’s Party want to solve the judicial crisis by updating current legislation, albeit in different ways.

PiS and the opposition liberal liberal party Nowoczesna also have rival plans to regulate the court from scratch. The Committee for Defence of Democracy (KOD), a citizens’ movement, gathered enough signatures to force its own proposal to be discussed in parliament.

But Terlecki, the PiS MP, has said that the party will present a new proposal in June.

PiS set out to reform Poland’s constitutional court soon after winning elections in October 2015.

The party blocked the appointment of five judges that had been nominated by the previous government and passed a law that rendered the court less efficient.

The court ruled that the changes were unconstitutional, but PiS refused to recognise its verdict, creating a legal limbo.

Timmermans, the EU commissioner, visited Warsaw in early April. He cancelled a follow-up trip in May.

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Activists have begun camping outside the prime minister's office in Warsaw after the government refused to recognise a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal.

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The EU Commission will discuss on Wednesday the state of play in Poland, and might launch a monitoring procedure against Warsaw. But what does this procedure mean, and does it matter?

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