Wednesday

23rd May 2018

MEPs put 'Article 7' against Poland on launch pad

  • Commission vice-president Timmermans urged Poland to align the judicial reform with EU standards (Photo: European Parliament)

MEPs prepared on Wednesday (15 November) the first step towards a sanctions procedure against Poland over concerns regarding the nationalist government's clampdown on the independence of the judiciary and breach of fundamental EU values.

In a resolution adopted by 438 to 152 votes, with 71 abstentions, the lawmakers condemned the "serious violations" of the rule of law in the country and said that the so-called Article 7 procedure should be launched by member states.

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Just like a similar resolution adopted earlier this year against Hungary, MEPs called on the Parliament's civil liberties committee to draw up a report on the situation in Poland, which would be the basis for a plenary vote later formally asking the Council to activate Article 7.

The sanctions procedure could end up with the suspension of Poland's voting rights in the council of the EU.

However that is unlikely to happen as the Hungarian government has already said it would block any such attempt.

Poland's prime minister Beata Szydlo called Wednesday's vote "outrageous" and said she would raise the issue with fellow EU leaders at an informal summit on Friday in Gothenburg.

The European Parliament's resolution urges the Polish authorities to implement fully all recommendations of the European Commission and the Venice Commission, a legal watchdog of the Council of Europe.

It also urges Warsaw to "refrain from conducting any reform which would put at risk respect for the rule of law, and in particular the independence of the judiciary", and asks for the postponement of the adoption of any laws until a proper assessment has been done.

MEPs also called for the government - run by the eurosceptic and socially conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) - to comply with all provisions relating to the rule of law and fundamental rights enshrined in the EU treaties.

Earlier in the day MEPs held a debate - for the fifth time - on the current situation in Poland, with rightwing Polish MEPs leaving the plenary in protest.

EU Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans outlined the executive's concerns over legislation that was adopted and proposed during the summer in Warsaw, which it says deepens the systematic threat to the rule of law in Poland.

Faced with mounting criticism, two of those bills were vetoed by Polish president Andrzej Duda, who himself hails from the PiS. In September Duda proposed his own versions of these bills.

Timmermans told MEPs that even the draft laws proposed by Duda were not acceptable.

"At this preliminary stage of our assessment, the Commission already notes that certain issues in these draft laws could raise serious concerns," he said.

He urged Warsaw to align the drafts with EU rules and standards on judicial independence.

"The legislative status of these two draft laws are a key test for the Polish authorities ... if there is respect for the rule of law and take full account of the Commission's concerns," Timmermans added.

The EU executive has its own probe against the Polish government to make sure EU rules are followed.

Timmermans urged the Polish authorities to engage in a dialogue with the Commission.

"The EU cannot function if member states start saying we pick and chose which rules are applicable to us," he added.

"The independent judiciary is essential in the rule of law, you cannot use the majority to ignore the law, you cannot use democracy against the rule of law," Timmermans said.

Angry walk out

MEP Ryszard Antoni Legutko from the ruling PiS party accused the Commission of using double standards and being on a political hunt against the Polish government.

"These are colonial habits, ... eastern Europe has now found its way, and is not going to ask for permission each time," he told fellow MEPs, claiming that "what is being said in the German media about Poland is an anti-Polish orgy". Legutko then walked out of the plenary debate.

Janusz Lewandowski, MEP from the largest Polish opposition party, Civic Platform, said that what is happening in Poland is an "abuse of power" by the government.

Article 7 not mentioned in Poland probe update

While Polish president Andrzej Duda proposes amendments to further increase political control over the judiciary, EU ministers voice support for the rule of law, but make no mention of the Article 7 sanctions.

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Linking EU funds to 'rule of law' is innovative - but vague

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