EU issues Poland with official warning over constitutional court changes

By on 02/06/2016
The European Parliament

The EU Commission has issued an official warning to the government of Poland over recent changes to the country’s constitutional court, which it argues endanger the rule of law.

Soon after Poland’s ultra-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in October 2015, the Polish parliament passed a law allowing the government to appoint the judges of its choosing to the highest court and not recognise those chosen by its predecessor, the liberal Civic Platform party.

The changes have led to a constitutional crisis leaving the country paralysed and prompted the European parliament in April to issue a motion ordering the government to reverse the changes.

However, this has not happened and now the commission formally accused Poland’s government of endangering the rule of law in an opinion issued yesterday that could pave the way for sanctions against Warsaw.

Justifying yesterday’s publishing of the warning, Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president of the European Commission, tweeted: “Since January we have been in an intensive dialogue with the Polish government under the Rule of Law Framework.

“However, despite our best efforts, until now we have not been able to find solutions to the main issues at stake.”

He added: “Let me be clear that the Commission does not intend and does not wish to involve itself in a political debate in Poland.

“Political issues in Poland are the business of politicians in Poland. Our business is preserving the rule of law, in line with the Treaties.”

The move is the first time Brussels has officially issued a warning to Poland in a five-month stand-off between the EU executive and the bloc’s sixth-largest economy.

But it stopped short of calling for a resulting punishment, stressing that “dialogue” would still continue.

Polish officials said that the announcement marked a capitulation by Brussels and was an acknowledgement that it had failed to force Warsaw’s hand, according to the Financial Times newspaper.

Beata Szydlo, Poland’s prime minister, said: “The opinion is an opinion, it has no impact on the decisions that will be taken in Poland.”

In theory, Poland could face financial sanctions or be stripped of EU voting rights. But this requires unanimous support from other member states and – thanks to Hungary’s Viktor Orban who has already said he would oppose any such measures – looks unenforceable.

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See also:

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About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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