In an unprecedented move, the European Commission will ask other EU member states to declare that Poland’s judiciary overhaul constitutes “a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values.” If the states agree, Warsaw’s voting rights would be suspended.
“The Commission has today concluded that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law in Poland,” the Commission said in a statement.
“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.”
“As guardians of the treaty, the commission is under a strict responsibility to act. If the application of the rule of law is left completely to the individual member states, then the whole of the EU will suffer,” the EC Deputy President Frans Timmermans said.
“This decision has no merit. It is in our opinion a purely political decision,” Beata Mazurek, a spokeswoman for the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party responded.
The next step in the process is that EU governments, meeting in the Council of the European Union, will hear Poland out and ask it to address their concerns. But if 22 out of the EU’s 28 countries and the European Parliament are not satisfied in the end, the process will move on to the next stages, which may mean sanctions.
Sanctions can be imposed with the backing of a majority of countries representing a majority of the EU’s citizens. But to get to that stage, EU governments have first to unanimously agree that what was initially just a risk of a serious breach of the rule of law has now become a reality. This is unlikely to happen, as Hungary has already said that it will not support such motion.
“Poland is perceived today as a disintegrating force in this part of Europe and this is why I believe that it is important to end this devastation of Poland’s reputation,” the European Council head and former Polish PM Donald Tusk said.
The judiciary overhaul lowers the retirement age for the Supreme Court’s judges to 65 from 70, effectively forcing the immediate removal of 40 percent of the currently appointed judges. The Supreme Court confirms election results and is the court of the last appeal in Poland.
Another reform would give lawmakers the right to choose 15 out of the council’s 25 judges, who so far have been selected by other judges. It also introduces the possibility to make a complaint regarding any court’s decision from the past 20 years.
The Council of Europe, Europe’s human rights watchdog, has compared such measures to those of the Soviet system.