Polish PM expects ‘nuclear’ article 7 to be triggered next Wednesday

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban criticised the EU's migration policy during a joint press conference on Wednesday (3 January). [Council]

Poland’s new prime minister said on Thursday (14 December) that he expects the EU to impose unprecedented sanctions next week that could strip his government of its voting rights over its controversial court reforms.

The European Commission will “probably activate” next Wednesday (20 December) article seven of the EU treaty, designed to stop a “systemic” threat to the rule of law, Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters at his first EU summit in Brussels.

“It is well within their purview,” the Polish premier added.

“But between the start of such an unfair procedure against us until its conclusion, we will certainly speak many times with our partners,” Morawiecki said.

Article 7: The ins and outs of the EU's 'nuclear option' for Poland

The European Commission will decide on Wednesday (26 July) how to deal with the Poland’s reform of its judicial system, which Brussels and the Polish opposition say undermines the judiciary’s independence and violates the EU’s basic principles of the rule of law.

Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government, which began making changes to the judiciary after coming to power in late 2015, insists the new reforms are needed to combat corruption and overhaul the judicial system still haunted by the communist era.

However, the Commission has warned the reforms pose a threat to democratic principles and rule of law countries signed up to when they joined the European Union.

A spokeswoman for the EU executive said that the “state of play of the rule of law procedure against Poland is on the agenda” for Wednesday’s high-level commission meeting.

“We cannot pre-empt the discussions of the (commission) on the matter,” the spokeswoman told AFP.

‘Nuclear option’

Poland’s right-wing dominated parliament last week adopted new reforms allowing it to choose members of a body designed to protect judicial independence and reinforce political control over the Supreme Court.

Warsaw has already come under heavy fire from Brussels for a string of earlier judicial reforms that the bloc argues pose a threat to the rule of law.

The reforms have also sparked street protests in Poland and concern from the US State Department.

The EU has for months warned Poland it may trigger article seven — the so-called “nuclear option” that freezes voting rights — over the reforms.

Timmermans dangles Article 7, makes appeal to the Poles

The Commission is likely to call for the triggering of Article 7 next Wednesday (26 July) with respect to Poland, often referred to as “the nuclear option” to punish an EU member state, it emerged following the weekly meeting of the EU executive today (19 July).

The EU can take this step by a majority.

But moving on to actual sanctions against Poland must be approved by all the remaining member states, meaning it could be vetoed by Budapest, which has also clashed with Brussels over democracy issues.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks has said the new Polish reforms “will further undermine the independence of the judiciary.”

They “subordinate the judiciary to the executive and the legislature,” further eroding the separation of powers and the rule of law, he said.

But the Polish prime minister defended the changes.

“I am firmly convinced that sovereign states – and Europe must be a Europe of sovereign states – have an absolute right to reform their judicial systems,” he said.

“The ineffectiveness of the Polish courts has become legendary even in Europe,” Morawiecki added.

New Polish PM Morawiecki makes summit debut

Poland’s newly appointed Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki will attend his first  European summit in Brussels on Thursday (14 December), where leaders and policymakers hope he will be more cooperative than his predecessor Beata Szydło, who resigned this week.