Poland considers its dispute with the European Commission about the country’s rule of law closed, its foreign minister said yesterday (21 February), leaving Brussels with the impossible decision of punishing Warsaw.
The Commission gave Poland a deadline to implement measures it deems essential after the eurosceptic Warsaw government made a series of appointments and reforms Brussels says weaken the independence of its judiciary.
Poland sent a letter to the Commission on Monday (20 February) insisting that its actions conform with European standards.
“I expect that the matter will be closed,” Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told state-run radio Trojka on Tuesday.
“We explained comprehensively what happened in Poland, how the reforms relating to the Constitutional Court have been implemented,” he added.
In theory, the Juncker Commission could now move to strip Poland of its voting rights in the EU under article seven of the treaty – an option recommended on Tuesday by a human rights group – but Poland’s ally Hungary has indicated it would veto such a step.
The executive is expected to examine the Polish government’s letter responding to its concerns today (22 February).
— European Commission (@EU_Commission) February 21, 2017
It will have to weigh up defending what it sees as core principles of EU membership with prolonging a dispute with a major member state at a time when a range of challenges including a migrant crisis and Britain’s impending exit already threaten the bloc’s unity.
Tensions between Warsaw and Brussels have grown steadily since the nationalist PiS (Law and Justice) party swept to power in late 2015 and moved to change the way rulings are made at the top court and to exert more control over state prosecutors.
One rights group, Reporters without Borders, said on Tuesday that the European Commission should not back down in its dispute with Warsaw.
“If the EU does not trigger the Article 7 (of the treaty), it will betray its own values,” Christophe Deloire, the group’s secretary-general, said at a news conference in Warsaw.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a close EU ally of PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, has signalled he would block any attempts to sanction Poland.
The EU has accused Orbán of undermining the rule of law and democratic standards in Hungary but has done little to sanction his government since it came to power in 2010.