EU ministers to debate threats to rule of law in member state Poland

The Foreign Affairs Council. Brussels, 15 May. [European Council]

For the first time ever, EU governments will today debate (16 May) the internal affairs of one of the Union’s members – Poland – given the Commission has accused the nationalist-minded government in Warsaw of undermining democratic checks and balances, especially through its overhaul of Poland’s constitutional court.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has refused to follow EU recommendations and says the Commission is overstepping its remit in telling a democratically elected government with a large parliamentary majority how to behave.

Poland has last word in rule of law dispute

Poland considers its dispute with the European Commission about the country’s rule of law closed, its foreign minister said yesterday (21 February), leaving Brussels with the impossible decision of punishing Warsaw.

First Vice President Frans Timmermans told his Commission colleagues at weekly meeting on 22 February he wanted to take the Polish case to other EU states. According to the minutes of the College meeting, the Commission raised the following main points:

  • the lack of willingness shown by the Polish Government to find a way out of the crisis concerning the rule of law in the country;
  • the need to involve other member states in a broader political discussion in order to decide on the response to the refusal by the Polish Government to guarantee the fundamental principles of the rule of law;
  • the importance of appropriate communication to inform the public and the media of the need to take action at Union level to ensure compliance with its principles and fundamental values.

Asked by journalists a few days ago in Stockholm, Timmermans said he was not ready to announce any other steps at this stage.

“We have a number of instruments in our toolbox… I believe there is still room for political dialogue”, he said.

In theory, a formal procedure against Poland could end with the country losing its EU voting rights, the sources said.

Such a step would require unanimity among the 28 member states and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has himself been accused by the EU of undermining democratic practices, has said he would oppose any bid to punish Poland.

With Hungarian support, Poland defies EU over rule of law

Poland dismissed on Monday (20 February) demands that it implement judiciary reforms deemed essential by the European Commission to uphold the rule of law.

Orbán has recently downplayed its differences with the EU, saying he was trying to oppose George Soros, whom he called “the American financial speculator attacking Hungary”.

Orbán: Hungary has no big issue with EU, it has a problem with Soros

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said he was committed to the EU and accused US billionaire George Soros of “attacking” his country yesterday (26 April) as he defended a law that could close down a university founded by the philanthropist.

The Commission debated Hungary on 10 May. According to the minutes of the College meeting, the Hungarian commissioner Tibor Navracsics said he was acting as a mediator, and expressed hope that a satisfactory solution might be possible.

Commentators placed hope in the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of France bringing back Poland and Hungary into the EU ‘ranks’.

Macron's win puts pressure on Poland, Hungary to align with EU

While the election of Emmanuel Macron as French president with a vision of closer European Union integration was a relief to much of Europe, for Poland and Hungary it fanned fears of losing influence.

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