Sunday

18th Aug 2019

Polish minister roasted in EU sanctions probe

  • EU state minister Szymanksi criticised the commission's assessment of Polish reforms (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Poland defended its judicial overhaul to fellow EU countries on Tuesday (26 June) in an unprecedented probe into its latest reforms, which, critics say, put courts under political control.

Poland's EU affairs minister Konrad Szymanski briefed his counterparts on the reforms, arguing that they were necessary to overhaul an inefficient court system inherited from communist times, but offered no new concessions.

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

Szymanski criticised the European Commission's assessment of the judicial reforms, which it said were "misleading" and contained "factual mistakes".

The hearing comes as part of the so-called Article 7 sanctions procedure launched by the EU commission last December after the EU executive concluded that the set of reforms posed a systematic threat to the country's rule of law.

"This has never been done before," highlighted an EU official.

During the meeting, other EU ministers had the chance to ask two minute-long questions in a follow-up to Poland's presentation.

Ahead of the hearing, ministers said they were keen to hear Poland's reasoning behind forcing Supreme Court judges to retire and the establishment of a new appeals chamber that can turn around 20-year old rulings.

Commission vice president Frans Timmermans said that he continued to be open to dialogue with Warsaw, but said Poland's moves to address the EU executive's concerns over rule of law had not been sufficient.

Several member states, including Germany and France, which once again presented their joint position together at the meeting, back the commission's assessment.

"There can be no discount on the rule of law," Germany's state minister on EU affairs, Michael Roth said ahead of the meeting. "We need substantial progress especially in terms of the Polish judiciary independence," he added.

The Benelux and Nordic countries also backed the EU executive on piling more pressure on Poland.

"We are saying to the Polish once again and with many voices from many EU countries, that the answer wanted by the commission has not been entirely given yet. After the 3rd of July, an important day for Poland and its justice, we might have to go further than the Article 7," Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg's foreign minister said going into the meeting.

At the next meeting in July, EU ministers will assess the responses of Poland and decision will be made "on the follow-up steps".

'Take a step back'

Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) government argues that it has made enough concessions and wants the commission to "take a step back".

"Poland tried hard to fulfil the commission's recommendations and now it is the commission's turn to take a step back if it wants to continue the dialogue with Warsaw," said an official on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

One such a move from the commission, the official said, could be closing the probe, a so-called infringement procedure on the retirement age of ordinary judges.

The commission said the difference in retirement ages for male and female judges is discriminatory, to which Poland has amended its laws to have the same retirement age.

Another move could be not launching another probe into the new retirement age of Supreme Court judges. That legislation comes into force on 3 July when some 27 judges are expected to be forced out.

Timmermans said after the hearing that the commission has not taken any decision yet and will look at the issue closely.

The 28 commissioners are divided over whether the EU executive has enough legal basis to launch such an infringement procedure, although there have been widespread calls for the commission to do something on the issue.

The official said that the Polish expectation for the commission to tone down its rhetoric is not linked to the hearing with the ministers, but refers to the entire rule of law dialogue with Poland.

Poland urged to halt 'purge' of top court

Next month Supreme Court judges could be removed in Poland - due to a controversial reform seen as a judicial purge by a government that wants to control the courts. The European Commission wants Warsaw to act now.

Orban praises von der Leyen after first face-to-face

The EU Commission president-elect said she had a "good talk" with Hungary's controversial premier. Orban returned the praise, saying said the former German defence minister "thinks with [a] central Europeans' head".

Von der Leyen aims to 'rebalance Europe'

The German EU Commission president-elect hopes to bridge divisions within the EU, as she meets with EU leaders setting up her team of commissioners.

Johnson's call for new Brexit deal hits EU 'no'

The UK will not nominate a new EU commissioner, the new British PM said in his first address to parliament, and insisted that the Irish backstop can be renegotiated - without giving any specifics on alternative solutions.

News in Brief

  1. Trump turned down: Greenland not for sale
  2. UK Libdems would back Clarke or Harman as new PM
  3. Six countries agree to take 'Open Arms' ship migrants
  4. Gibraltar judge: Iranian ship should be released
  5. Increasing fears of a global recession
  6. Far-right hate crimes on the rise in Germany
  7. EU steel tariffs have 'worked well' so far
  8. Italian court: Migrant rescue ship can enter Italian waters

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings
  2. EU asked to solve migrant rescue deadlock
  3. Internal EU paper: Second Brexit vote was no longer 'distant dream'
  4. EU has 'zero incentive' to break open 'trilogue' deals
  5. Denmark plans import ban on EU-approved pesticide
  6. US offers Johnson helping hand on Brexit
  7. Italy: New government without Salvini in the making
  8. Brexit row delays financial products transparency review

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us