Wednesday

22nd May 2019

Poland shows no sign of concessions to Commission

  • Minister Szymanki (l) and PM Morawiecki (r) at December's EU summit (Photo: Consilium)

Despite European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker signalling a possible rapprochement between the EU executive and Poland, Warsaw has given no sign of compromise in its discussions with Brussels over the rule of law.

The commission last December triggered an unprecedented sanctions procedure against Poland, giving Warsaw three months to reverse judicial reforms it deems are undermining the rule of law.

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If Poland does not amend these laws, the commission could then call on EU member states to prepare sanctions.

Juncker hinted last week that the positions of Poland and the EU are moving closer.

"We are keeping up our dialogue and I think there is a good chance the Polish positions will move toward ours to see our positions move a bit more timidly towards the Polish position," he told a press conference last Wednesday (14 February).

"What president Juncker said is the very nature of every political process, it is called compromise. But before we will move toward that phase we have to clarify where we are today. This process in ongoing," Konrad Szymanski, Poland's EU affairs minister told reporters in Brussels on Monday.

"I'm pretty optimistic about the direction of the process, I'm not sure what will be the end of the process," he added.

The appointment of a new Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, in December, was seen as a move to ease tensions with the EU.

Juncker's working dinner with Morawiecki last month marked a new phase in the dialogue with Poland that has become poisonous in the past two years.

Despite better communication between the two sides after some bruising conflicts, Morawiecki's arrival has not brought a change in policy in Warsaw, only in style so far. But the commission's probe has also seemed to be losing momentum.

"There is no doubt we hold [a] quite different assessment from the commission about the nature of judicial reform in Poland," the Polish minister said.

"The readiness to hear the arguments is better than it was before and we will react proportionally in a positive way," Szymanski added.

The two sides have been engaged in technical talks over the the various laws the the EU executive thinks threatens rule of law in Poland.

The commission argues that through weakened Polish courts, Warsaw's judicial reforms pose a threat to the rule of law in the EU's entire single market.

"We have to clarify what does the 'risk' mean, according to [the] EU commission's assessment there is major infringement of the rule of law," Szymanksi said.

Warsaw is planning to respond to the commission's latest set of recommendations under the rule of law mechanism by 20 March.

The Polish government also plans to publish a so-called 'white book' in which it aims to outline Warsaw's response to criticism of its judicial reform - pointing to similar solutions in other EU member states.

Besides the rule of law issue, Poland is also at loggerheads with the commission over its migration policy, its recent Holocaust law, and its reluctance to implement rulings of the EU's top court.

Officials have suggested the commission would be open to a compromise with Poland if it reconsidered these issues and played a less eurosceptic role.

Hungarian example

In its dealings with Hungary - which has also faced several EU probes because of the government's challenge to the free press and the rule of law, the commission let Budapest off the hook after the prime minister Viktor Orban's government made cosmetic changes to the legislation in question.

But the Warsaw government is more ideological than the one in Budapest.

"I don't think the Polish government will back down. It is a matter for principle for them," an EU source said.

Most EU member states are reluctant to punish Poland, while Hungary has already said it would veto any sanctions against the fellow 'Visegrad Four' country.

Juncker was expected to meet with Morawiecki on the margins of the informal EU summit on Friday (23 February), but the meeting has not been confirmed yet.

Poland defends judicial reforms, warns against EU pressure

Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki presented the Commission with 94-pages of arguments backing Warsaw's controversial judicial reforms - while his EU minister warns that constant conflict with Brussels could stoke anti-European sentiment.

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