The European Commission has launched an unprecedented disciplinary process against Poland that could lead to the loss of Warsaw’s voting rights in the EU. The decision was prompted by judicial reforms that have put the country’s justice system “under the political control of the ruling majority,” the European Commission said in a statement. Over the last two years the Polish government has passed 13 laws “that have put at serious risk the judiciary and the separation of powers in Poland” said first vice-president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans at a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday.
“The common pattern of all these legislative changes is that the executive … powers are now set up in such a way that the ruling majority can systematically …interfere with the composition, powers, administration and the functioning of these authorities, thereby rendering the independence of the judiciary completely moot,” Timmermans said.
In a written statement the Commission added that it had tried for nearly two years to engage Poland “in a constructive dialogue” and was forced into this action to “protect the rule of law in Europe.” EU governments will now be asked to decide whether the changes to Poland’s judiciary constitute “a clear risk of a serious breach” of EU values. Poland has three months to address the Commission’s concerns or face possible censure. If at the end of this process Poland is deemed to still be in breach of EU values, Warsaw could, if unanimously decided, have its voting rights in the European Council revoked. However, Hungary has made it clear that it would veto such a decision.
Poland’s conservative government defended the reforms as necessary to curb inefficiency and corruption. “This decision has no merit. It is in our opinion a purely political decision,” said Beata Mazurek, a spokeswoman for Poland’s ruling PiS party.
“Poland is as devoted to the rule of law as the rest of the EU,” said Poland’s new prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Twitter.
“The dialogue between the Commission and Warsaw needs to be both open and honest. I believe that Poland’s sovereignty and the idea of United Europe can be reconciled.”