The EU today (1 June) formally warned Poland that it should find a solution to roll back Warsaw’s overhaul of the top Polish court, which critics say endangers its independence.
“We have decided to send a rule-of-law opinion to the Polish authorities,” European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans told a press conference. An “opinion” in this case amounts to a warning.
However, Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said that the executive’s critique is “one-sided”.
Brussels and Warsaw have held a series of high-level talks in recent days aimed at soothing a dispute over the Polish government’s attempted top court reform, but failed to resolve the row.
“I am surprised and saddened by the statement of the European Commission, which have had intensive talks with the Polish government,” Ziobro said. “The European Commission have had a chance to see that the government was looking for a compromise,” he added.
“It’s a one-sided opinion, showing a distorted image, despite the European Commission’s awareness of what the situation looks like,” Ziobro concluded.
Last week, Warsaw and Brussels said they were “upbeat” about finding a solution, but this appears to have not materialised.
Since 2009, when the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, the European Commission has been confronted on several occasions with crisis events in some member states, which revealed specific rule of law problems.
Under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, serious breaches to the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights by a member state can result in a suspension or loss of voting rights in the EU Council of Ministers.
If article 7 is activated, this would mean that the country in breach would temporarily lose its EU membership rights. But before such a decision can be made, the Council shall hear the member state in question and may address recommendations.
But as Article 7 is described as a ‘nuclear bomb’ which may never been used, the previous Commission, under José Manuel Barroso, introduced a "pre-Article 7 procedure", which follows three stages. Those are: assessment, recommendation and finally a follow-up to the recommendation.
Before the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, the EU imposed sanctions against a member state only once. In 2000, 14 countries of the then 15-member EU reacted to the entrance of Jörg Haider's far-right Austrian Freedom Party into the Austrian government, by freezing bilateral relations with the country.