French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will support the Commission if it decides to trigger Article 7 against Warsaw next week, the two told a joint press conference at the end of a two-day EU summit on Friday (15 December).
But they also voiced hope that Poland’s new Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki would do what it takes to avert the sanctions through a dialogue with the Commission.
It was Morawiecki who first said he expects the EU to impose unprecedented sanctions next week, a move that could strip his government of its voting rights in the European Council, over Poland’s controversial court reforms.
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 Warsaw that the reforms pose a threat to the democratic principles and rule of law all countries signed up to when they joined the EU. Warsaw has already come under heavy fire from Brussels for a string of earlier judicial reforms.
Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, which has never been used until now, is sometimes referred to as “the nuclear option”. It was designed to defend the EU’s core values such as democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law. If the EU notices a “serious and persistent breach” of these values it can activate Article 7 and suspend membership rights, such as voting in the EU Council or access to the single market.
“I will support the initiatives taken by the European Commission every time it defends the rule of law. And on this, there will be no complacency,” said Macron, speaking alongside Merkel. He added that he was not updated on the latest developments in the dialogue taking place between Poland and the Commission.
— Barbara Wesel (@wesel_barbara) December 15, 2017
“A discussion has to take place. If at the end of those discussions, the European Commission decides that the procedure has to be triggered, we will have a clear position – that of supporting the Commission”, the French president said.
Already frosty even under the previous French administration, relations between Paris and Warsaw reached a new low in August, when Macron said the Polish people deserved better leaders and shunned Poland during his tour of eastern Europe.
But he appeared to extend a lifeline to the newly appointed Prime Minister Morawiecki.
“I wish for my part that Poland can do the necessary efforts to lift the remaining ambiguities and reassure the Commission and the member states. And I have the impression that this is the new prime minister’s intention”, Macron said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a similar line, saying she hoped the dialogue between the Commission and Poland would make the procedure “unnecessary”.
The issue was also discussed at a separate press conference, perhaps in more dramatic circumstances because of the Polish nationality of the Council President Donal Tusk.
Addressing the press, Tusk used a great deal of his eloquence to fend off accusations of being anti-European, following his plea to abandon the divisive mandatory refugee quotas.
Tusk said his position on migration was “extremely pro-European” because, as he explained, he was thinking about Europe as a whole and not from the positions of individual countries, least of all his own country. He said:
“Especially in this issue of migration we need a common position and solidarity. In this context I’m totally impartial, I’m absolutely sure. And extremely pro-European. “
“Solidarity is especially important for me, because Solidarity was a kind of a brand of Poland, and I would be really disappointed if my country became the example of something completely different. But I hope I will convince my colleagues also in Poland, to be more open and find a common consensual solution.”
PiS, the ruling party of Jarosław Kaczyński, loathes Tusk, who was a successful prime minister at the helm of his Civic Platform party from 2007 to 2014.
When a journalist asked about Article 7, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed that the issue would be on the agenda of the Commission’s next weekly meeting.
Tusk said he didn’t have the opportunity to talk with Morawiecki, although they had briefly met and shaken hands. He added he hoped they could meet on future occasions.
He also said that Morawiecki had left the summit early and did not take part in the debate about Brexit and the European Monetary Union.
Polish journalists said Morawiecki had a flight scheduled before noon and his departure was not a snub but was linked to a previous commitment.