On Wednesday, the Commission formally launched unprecedented disciplinary measures against Poland, saying its planned judicial reforms threaten the rule of law.
It said 13 new laws in two years have allowed the government to interfere significantly in the judiciary.
Poland has been given three months to address the concerns.
The disciplinary measures, formally called article 7, could lead to the suspension of Poland’s voting rights at Council summits. However, Hungary has said it would block such a move, which requires the approval of all member states.
A statement from the Commission read, “Despite repeated efforts, for almost two years, to engage the Polish authorities in a constructive dialogue in the context of the rule of law framework, the Commission has today concluded that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law in Poland.
“Judicial reforms in Poland mean that the country's judiciary is now under the political control of the ruling majority.
“In the absence of judicial independence, serious questions are raised about the effective application of EU law, from the protection of investments to the mutual recognition of decisions in areas as diverse as child custody disputes or the execution of European arrest warrants.”
The statement went on, “Should the Polish authorities implement the recommended actions, the Commission is ready, in close consultation with the European Parliament and the Council, to reconsider.”
The Commission has also decided to take the next step in its infringement procedure against Poland for breaches of EU law by referring the country to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
“While taking these unprecedented measures, the Commission maintains its offer for a constructive dialogue to remedy the current situation,” said the statement.
The situation poses a potential diplomatic headache for British Prime Minister Theresa May who is due to meet her relatively new Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki at a summit in Warsaw on Thursday.
Parliament’s EPP group said it fully backs the European Commission’s decision. A statement by centre-right group read, “There is a clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law by the Polish government.
“The rule of law is non-negotiable in the European Union; it is one of our founding principles that we must protect in every way. We deeply regret that the Polish government is moving away from our common values. We therefore urge it to change its laws in order to avoid the article 7 decision by the Council and the European Parliament.”
EPP group leader Manfred Weber added, “With today’s decision, the European Commission is playing its role of guardian of the treaties. The European Parliament will also stand up for our values. These very serious concerns about the rule of law in Poland are based on objective and thorough legal assessments made by independent organisations such as the Venice Commission.”
His S&D group counterpart, Gianni Pittella, agreed, saying, “This is not a political decision but a necessary step based on the treaties. It comes after two years of overtures and invitations to dialogue addressed by the Commission to the Polish government, which unfortunately fell on deaf ears. The Commission had no choice but to launch Article 7.
“This is a development caused by the Polish government. We urge President Andrzej Duda to veto the laws adopted last week by the Polish parliament, and begin process of resolving this situation. Further, we urge Law and Justice leader Jarosław Kaczyński and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to follow all the recommendations sent by the Commission today and change all of the offending laws.
“The separation of powers is essential to ensure that the EU works effectively. We have to fight to protect it wherever it is under threat. Poland is a vital part of the EU and we urge the government to come back to the negotiating table and finally end this stalemate.”
ALDE group Chair Guy Verhofstadt said this was, “a sad day for the people of Poland, but I welcome the Commission proposal that article 7 should now be triggered. It’s clear the Polish judiciary is now under the political control of the ruling party. The principles of liberal democracy must be defended.”
Further comment came from Ska Keller and Philippe Lamberts, co-leaders of the Greens/EFA group in Parliament.
They said, “It was high time to open the article 7 procedure against Poland. We are glad that the European Commission finally followed our repeated calls. The European institutions were patient far too long with the Polish government dismantling the juridical system in the country.
“Democracy and rule of law in the member states are not optional. All member states committed to these fundamental principles and no government has the right to bring them down. This measure is not meant to target the Polish people but the government who doesn’t respect separation of power in the country.”