Poland risks losing its right to vote in the EU

The dialogue between the EU and Poland in search of a solution to the dispute over judicial reform has entered the final phase on Monday with the visit of the first Vice-President Frans Timmermans to Warsaw, where he met with Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki.

The meeting was described as positive and constructive but Timmermans and Morawiecki did not take any questions at their joint press conference. At a previous press conference in Warsaw, when Timmermans met the Polish foreign minister, the latter did not hesitate to express his admiration for Hungary, the first EU member to become an “illiberal democracy”.

The Commission described the meeting on Monday as the latest exchange in a process launched already in January 2016. Time is running out for Poland to avoid a Council decision on suspending its voting rights in the Council under article 7(1) of the EU treaty.

In December 2017, the Council adopted a decision stating that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by Poland of the rule of law and recommended the country take a number of actions within three months to restore the independence of its courts including its Constitutional Tribunal. That deadline has already passed.

On Monday the Polish prime minister handed Timmermans a document on what Poland has done to remedy the situation and stated that his country is determined to continue its reform of the judiciary. Whether the document goes much further than last time, when Timmermans commended Poland for abolishing differences in retiring ages for female and male judges, remains to be seen.

The controversial “Holocaust law” or anti-defamation bill, which limits freedom of expression about the Holocaust in Poland during WWII, has raised concerns in EU and around the world but is not part of the dialogue since it is not directly linked to the rule of law.

In fact, as an expression of historical revisionism, it contradicts basic European values on political appointments of judges.

When Polish president Andrzej Duda signed the law in February he announced that it would be reviewed by the Constitutional Tribunal. A spokesperson for Poland’s representation to the EU told The Brussels Times that the tribunal is still analysing the bill.

However, its is unlikely that the review will result in any cancellation of the law considering the dependence of the tribunal on the government.

The date is already set for a hearing on the rule of law in Poland at the General Affairs Council meeting in Brussels on 26 June. It will focus on the most pressing issues identified by the Commission. Other hearings are expected to be organised at a later stage.

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