The European Commission warned that it could take further action against Poland over its commitment to the rule of law on Wednesday (18 May), unless Warsaw’s conservative government makes “significant” progress.
The Law and Justice (PiS) government plunged Poland into a political crisis in December, within weeks of winning power, when it pushed through legislation to overhaul the constitutional court and modify its decision-making rules.
In January, the European Commission launched an unprecedented probe to see if the changes – seen by critics as endangering the institution’s independence – violated EU democracy rules and merited punitive measures.
“If there is no significant progress by 23 May, then the First Vice-President (Frans Timmermans) has been empowered to adopt the draft rule of law opinion,” the European Commission said in a statement.
The exact contents of the so-called opinion is not known, but if Poland fails to address the issues raised, Warsaw could eventually face a suspension of its voting rights in the European council of ministers, the EU’s most important decision-making body.
Warsaw downplayed the move, insisting Brussels had “not issued an ultimatum”.
“The European Commission will issue an opinion (by Monday), but we know it already” from ongoing consultations, Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski told reporters in Warsaw.
Despite the palpable cooling of ties between Warsaw and Brussels in recent months, Szymanski said relations were “friendly” and “satisfactory”.
Since taking office in November 2015, Poland’s conservatives have pushed through several pieces of controversial legislation, including strengthening state controls over public broadcasters and now seeking to tighten already limited access to abortions.
Earlier this month, around a quarter of a million Poles marched to defend their country’s place in the European Union and protest against the right-wing government.