Tuesday

17th Oct 2017

EU Commission to act on Poland

  • Timmermans is expected to get a mandate from commissioners to launch legal probes into Poland. (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission is expected to keep up the pressure on Poland on Wednesday (26 July), despite the country’s president vetoing two of the disputed pieces of legislation earlier this week.

Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans is likely to get authorisation from his fellow commissioners to start legal probes on the controversial laws once they have been adopted and published in the official journal.

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  • Polish president Andrzej Duda (l) has said he would veto two controversial laws (Photo: European Commission)

After mass protests, Polish president Andrzej Duda announced on Monday (24 July) that he would veto two controversial laws - one on dismissing supreme court members and another on parliament’s powers over the National Council of the Judiciary.

He is expected to propose new draft legislation within two months.

Parliament can still overturn his veto, but that would require a bigger majority than the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) now controls - which could prove difficult. The Sejm, the Polish lower house of parliament, resumes its work in September.

However, on Tuesday, Duda did sign a third law that allows the justice minister to fire the heads of lower courts.

The commission is likely to start an infringement procedure on it, once the law is published in the official journal, giving the political mandate to Timmermans to do so on Wednesday.

The commission is expected to argue on the basis of gender discrimination in regard to the legislation, as it allows for the firing of judges regardless of the difference in their retirement age, which is different between men and women in the country.

Timmermans, the Dutch commissioner, warned last week that these laws on judicial reform threaten the rule of law in Poland.

A fourth law, on the national school of the judiciary, could also come under scrutiny from the commission.

Rule of law dialogue

The EU executive is also expected to issue a third set of recommendations on Poland’s judicial reform within its dialogue on the rule of law.

Poland has ignored previous recommendations, dismissing them as political interference.

The commission is likely to set a deadline date. If, by then, the Polish government has not applied the recommendations, Article 7 (the sanctions procedure) could be launched.

Timmermans said last week that the EU executive is “very close” to launching Article 7.

A possible date for it could be a Council of the EU meeting, between representatives of member states, in September. But the Estonian council presidency will not start to organise a discussion on Poland before hearing the commission’s decision on Wednesday (26 July).

Member states' European affairs ministers get together at the end of September to discuss the situation in Poland and possibly the need for launching Article 7.

The date could, however, be influenced by Duda’s decision to come up with new laws on judicial reforms within two months.

The commission needs a majority of four fifths of member states to kick start the process, and requires unanimity to impose any sanctions - such as the suspension of voting rights.

Article 7 was cooked up in 1998 and then reinforced when Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider’s Freedom Party became a part of the governing coalition, and the EU scrambled for ways to sideline Austria.

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If you were to judge events purely on the US media's headlines, you would be forgiven for wondering if the Polish government had anything to do with its recent controversial judicial reforms.

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