European Commission opens third procedure against Poland for rule-of-law violations
The European Commission has launched a third infringement procedure against the Polish government, this time targeting a disciplinary regime recently adopted in Poland for judges, which “does not offer the necessary guarantees to protect them from political control” .
Poland now has two months to respond to the Commissions charges, which could see Warsaw referred to European Court of justice and ultimately result in significant financial penalties.
“The main objective of this disciplinary regime is, as for the rest of the judicial reform, to systematically subject the judges to political control” of the government, said European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, at a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday.
Timmermans claimed that disciplinary investigations had already been launched against judges “who participated in public debates on the ongoing judicial reform” in Poland. The sweeping reforms of the Polish justice system are seen by critics as an attempt by the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) to bring the judiciary to under its political.
This is the third time the Commission has launched infringement procedures against Warsaw. The first was in July 2017 concerning its reform of the district courts, and the second, in July 2018, was regarding its reform of the Supreme Court.
In both cases, the absence of satisfactory answers from Warsaw led to a referral to the EU Court of Justice.
These infringement procedures coincide with the opening of the rarer and more severe ‘Article 7’ procedure, initiated by the Commission in December 2017 against Poland. This mechanism, which is only used in cases of the most serious violations of the rule of law in a Member State, had never been used before, but it has since been activated against Viktor Orban’s Hungary which faces similar allegations.
This procedure, often referred to as an institutional “nuclear weapon” within the EU, could in theory, result in the loss of a Member States voting rights in the European Council. However, this would require a unanimous vote in favour of its use in EU capitals and Budapest and Warsaw have clearly announced their intention to join forces to prevent any sanctions.