‘Nuclear option’ against Poland?

European Parliament members vote during a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. [EPA-EFE/PATRICK SEEGER]

MEPs will on Wednesday (15 November) discuss and adopt a resolution on the rule of law in Poland. The draft contains a request for the EP’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs to prepare a report – the first step towards initiating the infringement procedure of Article 7 against the country. EURACTIV Poland reports.

“This means that the European Parliament does not intend to wait for the Venice Commission, which is expected to issue another opinion on Poland in December, to ask the Council to initiate the procedure of Article 7,” the Polish press agency PAP quoted an EP official as saying, under condition of anonymity.

“So far, the EP has rather taken the stand that the issue should be dealt with by the European Commission. Now it wants to take the matter into its own hands and direct a request towards the Council,” the official added.

List of objections towards the Polish government

A dozen MEPs representing all political forces in Parliament (including Christian Democrats, Socialists, Liberals and Greens) signed the draft resolution prepared by the largest factions in the EP. In the document, the authors point out that the situation in Poland poses a risk of violating EU rules.

“The Parliament regrets and observes with growing concern that a compromise on the fundamental problem of the functioning of the Constitutional Tribunal cannot be reached, which seriously undermines the [Polish] Constitution and the rule of law in Poland,” the EP resolution says.

Its authors highlight that the Polish government rejects constructive criticism from both the public and national and international institutions, as well as the EU. “So far, no action has been taken to address these concerns,” the parliamentary motion for a resolution emphasised.

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.

In the MEPs’ opinion, the proposed bills presented by President Andrzej Duda do not dispel doubts about the division of powers and the independence of the judiciary. They appeal to the president not to sign the laws into force until full independence of the judiciary is guaranteed.

The EP also calls on the Polish authorities to implement the recommendations made by the European Commission and the Venice Commission, and to stop reforms that could threaten the rule of law in Poland. It also calls for compliance with the decision of the European Court of Justice to immediately suspend the logging in the Białowieża Forrest and to respect the right to freedom of assembly.

Competitive resolution draft

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, which is part of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), also prepared its own motion for a resolution. It is supported by only one faction in the EP, which means there is no chance that it can be endorsed.

However, the ECR group always presents a separate initiative when there is a resolution on Poland. According to their draft, the EP should express its regrets that the European Commission has double standards. It also notes that the debate should not be politicised but rather conducted in accordance with the principle of respect for the sovereignty of member states and based on facts.

Polish minister accuses EU of ‘spreading lies’ in logging case

Illegal logging in an ancient Polish forest has been blown out of proportion by the European Commission, which “spread lies” and “manipulated the facts”, according to Poland’s environment minister, who insisted on yet another hearing as part of an ongoing legal case.

EU’s ‘nuclear option’

Article 7 of the EU Treaty is the so-called ‘nuclear option’ whereby a country can be sanctioned. The aim of the rule of law protection procedure is to allow dialogue with the member state concerned in order to prevent a “clear risk of serious infringement” of the values enshrined in the EU Treaty.

The EP, the Commission or one third of member states may start the mechanism provided in Article 7 to ask the Council to identify a serious risk by one of the member states violating EU values.

The decision on whether there is a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values is taken by the member states with a four-fifths majority, after prior consent of the EP.

Earlier, the Council hears the reasoning of the member state concerned and can also make recommendations to it. In order for a country to be sanctioned, which would entail a  suspension of its voting right in the Council, unanimous agreement must be reached during an EU summit.

In the case of Poland it is rather unlikely, as Hungary has announced several times that it would oppose any punishment of Poland.