EU could sus­pend Poland’s vot­ing rights

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The Euro­pean Union warned Poland yes­ter­day it would “im­me­di­ately” move to sus­pend its vot­ing rights in the bloc if it pushes ahead with a mass sack­ing of Supreme Court judges. Pres­i­dent An­drzej Duda’s un­ex­pected ve­to­ing of two con­tro­ver­sial re­forms, in­clud­ing one tar­get­ing the Supreme Court, had not ended the risk to the in­de­pen­dence of the Pol­ish ju­di­ciary, said Brus­sels.

Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Vice Pres­i­dent Frans Tim­mer­mans has given Poland one month to re­duce con­cern about the mea­sures be­ing pushed through by the right-wing govern­ment in War­saw, or face sanc­tions. The le­gal re­forms have trig­gered mass street protests in Poland and raised fears for the rule of law in one of the EU’s lead­ing east­ern for­mer com­mu­nist states.

“In this past week some things have changed in Poland-and some things have not,” Tim­mer­mans told re­porters af­ter Euro­pean Com­mis­sion­ers met on the is­sue for the sec­ond week in a row. Dutch­man Tim­mer­mans said he “must ac­knowl­edge and wel­come that pres­i­dent Duda has an­nounced his de­ci­sion to veto two of the four laws” but noted that two had al­ready passed, and that the govern­ment would keep try­ing to push through the oth­ers.

Tim­mer­mans said the EU “asks the Pol­ish au­thor­i­ties not to take any mea­sure to dis­miss or force the re­tire­ment of Supreme Court judges. If such a mea­sure is taken the com­mis­sion is ready to im­me­di­ately trig­ger the Ar­ti­cle 7 pro­ce­dure.” Ar­ti­cle 7 is a never-be­fore-used EU process de­signed to up­hold the rule of law, a so-called “nu­clear op­tion” that can freeze a coun­try’s right to vote in meet­ings of EU min­is­ters.

Govern­ment to press ahead

Separately, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion will launch le­gal ac­tion against Poland over one of the re­forms that did go through, tar­get­ing the coun­try’s com­mon courts, Tim­mer­mans said. That could lead to Poland be­ing hauled be­fore the bloc’s high­est court and even­tu­ally given a fine. Brus­sels and War­saw have been at log­ger­heads over the le­gal changes ever since the right-wing Law and Jus­tice (PiS) party took power in 2015 and an­nounced re­forms to Poland’s con­sti­tu­tional court.

This month the govern­ment pushed through a bill that would have re­in­forced po­lit­i­cal con­trol over the Supreme Court and an­other al­low­ing par­lia­ment to choose mem­bers of a body de­signed to pro­tect the in­de­pen­dence of the courts. Duda ve­toed those two while sign­ing into law an­other mea­sure that al­lows the jus­tice min­is­ter to uni­lat­er­ally re­place the chief jus­tices of the com­mon courts. Pol­ish Prime Min­is­ter Beata Szydlo has in­sisted that PiS will press ahead with the oth­ers.

While the EU’s an­nounce­ment yes­ter­day marks a fur­ther rais­ing of the stakes in its con­fronta­tion with Poland, the chances are slim that its vot­ing rights could ac­tu­ally be sus­pended. Pop­ulist Hun­gar­ian Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­ban has vowed he would in­stantly veto any such move by the EU. The EU brought in Ar­ti­cle 7 in re­sponse to fears about the rule of law in the wave of east­ern states like Poland join­ing af­ter 2004, al­though it was mainly in­tended as a back­stop or threat that had lit­tle chance of be­ing used. EU Jus­tice Com­mis­sioner Vera Jourova said Tues­day that the Pol­ish cri­sis had caused a “very high level of ner­vos­ity” about whether it would “af­fect the whole EU sys­tem of mu­tual recog­ni­tion of court de­ci­sions”. — AFP

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