Commission, Poland seek new dialogue on troublesome judicial reform

European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said in July "the "Commission's hand is still extended" towards Poland. [European Commission]

The European Commission and Poland appeared to avert head-on collision over a controversial judicial reform in the biggest eastern member state, with both sides taking a step back on Monday (25 September) and offering pledges for renewed dialogue.

European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who has led the executive’s efforts to make Poland comply with EU democratic requirements, briefed EU ministers in the General Affairs Council on the state of play in the conflict with Warsaw.

A part of the meeting was dedicated to assessing whether the Commission should trigger unprecedented sanctions in the form of Article 7, which could see Poland temporarily lose its voting rights in the European Council.

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.

At the same time, Polish President Andrzej Duda, who had vetoed one of the laws proposed by the conservative government in July, unveiled in Warsaw new versions of the laws that Timmermans had said threatened the basic principles of the rule of law.

“As we agreed in May, the Commission has updated Ministers today on the rule of law dialogue with Poland. I was encouraged by the broad support in the Council to find a solution and by the openness of the Polish government to a renewed dialogue,” Timmermans tweeted.

“We are ready to pursue the dialogue in Brussels or Warsaw,” the Vice-President said and added: “We have broad support for the role of the Commission as guardian of the treaties, for protection of the rule of law, and for this dialogue [with Poland]”.

Triggering Article 7 against a member state can only be done by unanimity and – as Timmermans is well aware – such a move would probably be vetoed by Hungary, another eastern state that has openly defied Brussels in the past year and clashed with the EU over democracy issues.

Duda, a nominal ally of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, said in Warsaw on Monday he was seeking a greater say in nominating judges. This would still increase political control over the judiciary but would make it more difficult for the PiS-dominated parliament to control the whole procedure.

Under Polish Constitution, the president also has a right to veto laws.

Since coming to power, PiS has tightened the government’s grip on courts and brought prosecutors and state media under direct government control.

The Dutch Commissioner also urged Duda to refer his new draft laws to the Venice Commission for scrutiny and guidance. The Venice Commission is an advisory body for the Council of Europe, a human rights and rule of law watchdog that comprises 47 countries, including all EU members.

 

Timmermans to Poland: 'We are still open to dialogue'

European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans discussed the rule of law in Poland with members of the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee on Thursday (31 August). EURACTIV Poland reports.