Timmermans on rule of law in Poland: Concessions are still insufficient

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans during the press conference with Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz (not seen) in Warsaw, Poland, 09 April 2018. [EPA-EFE/Jacek Turczyk]

Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans has urged Poland to formulate its full proposal to solve the dispute over the rule of law by mid-May, as previous concessions are considered as insufficient. EURACTIV Poland reports.

Poland’s rule of law was one of the main topics of the Luxembourg meeting of the Council of Ministers on Tuesday (17 April). Behind closed doors, Timmermans told the ministers that the formal reply of the Morawiecki government, issued in March as a ‘White Paper’, did not solve any problems.

At the same time, he considered as a promising step the concessions proposed in the PiS’s parliamentary projects published before the Easter break.

Timmermans urges quick solution to Poland's court reform dispute

Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans on Monday (9 April) urged Poland to step up efforts at finding a solution to a high-pitched dispute over its controversial judicial reforms, denounced by Brussels as violating the rule of law.

The main concerns are the publication of three judgments of the Constitutional Tribunal in 2016 and the equalisation of the pension age of men and women.

Timmermans made clear that the steps taken so far by Poland are insufficient. He said they still do not dispel fears about the independence of Poland’s judiciary, as a witness of the meeting told EURACTIV.

Many other ministers spoke in a similar tone, which included the very vocal remarks from the Benelux, Sweden and Denmark. “We are grateful for the cooperation between the Commission and Poland. But despite the progress, the results are not enough yet,” the German Minister of European Affairs, Michael Roth, said just before the meeting.

Breakthrough or grilling

The Council will return to the topic at its next meeting on 14 May. Timmermans told the ministers he would then present them with a full assessment of the concessions from Poland and propose conclusions.

“I am calling on the Polish authorities to treat this May date as a reference point. As a date, when both sides will be able to draw conclusions, to see if we have achieved what we should. And this will affect what next steps will be taken, and maybe those we will not have to take,” Timmermans added.

What is not said aloud is that this also concerns the decision of what to do next with the proceedings of the infringement procedure under Article 7, which the Commission initiated in December.

In the event of great progress in talks with Poland, the proceedings can be delayed or even closed. Otherwise, the EU Council could soon start – as part of the unpleasant “grilling” of Warsaw – to work on its own rule of law recommendations for the Morawiecki government.

Timmermans: The game is about what to let go

During the debate in Luxembourg, Timmermans distanced himself from the term “compromise” and told the ministers that solutions are needed which would make Poland a country without a “systemic threat to the rule of law.”

“You can call it a “compromise” or not. But it is about a settlement somewhere in the middle of the road between Warsaw and the expectations of Brussels. However, where exactly in the middle? What to let go? That is what the game is about,” he explained.

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But what will PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński finally agree to? “We still do not know,” another Western diplomat who participates in the EU Council meetings explained to EURACTIV.

Warsaw “rejects action under time pressure”

Minister for European Affairs, Konrad Szymański, assured journalists in Luxembourg that “there is optimism” but – when asked about the May deadline – denied the need to act “under time pressure”. However, during the meeting, he made clear that Poland is ready to make further concessions.

“The latest declaration of the prime minister is known here,” he told reporters, referring to the statements by Mateusz Morawiecki that “a few further changes in the reform of the justice system will probably be introduced.”

Szymański also commented on the allegation that European Council President and former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is not in favour of a settlement between Warsaw and the Commission.

“For Donald Tusk, there is a difficult choice between the Polish raison d’état and the political interest of his party,” Szymański said, referring to the ruling PiS party’s accusation that the Polish opposition is actually fueling the conflict with Brussels.

The article was published as part of a partnership with Gazeta Wyborcza.

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