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Polish government furious over censure that could see its EU voting rights taken away

Poland says the move from the EU risks undermining “mutual trust”.

Image: Shutterstock/Adam Wasilewski

POLAND DISMISSED AS “political” the EU’s decision today to launch unprecedented disciplinary proceedings over its judicial reforms, which Brussels says threaten the rule of law.

The disciplinary procedure could ultimately lead to Poland losing its voting rights in the EU.

“Poland deplores the European Commission’s launch of the procedure foreseen in Article 7, which is essentially political, not legal” in nature, the Polish foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that the move risks undermining “mutual trust”.

Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told reporters in Brussels that 13 laws adopted by Poland in the space of two years had created a situation where the government “can systematically politically interfere with the composition, powers, the administration and the functioning” of judicial authorities.

Poland’s right-wing Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki shot back on Twitter that “Poland is as devoted to the rule of law as the rest of the EU”.

He said that the “current judiciary reform is deeply needed”, echoing the governing Law and Justice party (PiS), which says the reforms are aimed at banishing the last vestiges of communism from public life nearly three decades after its collapse.

‘Come to its senses’

Morawiecki added that “the dialogue between the Commission and Warsaw needs to be both open and honest. I believe that Poland’s sovereignty and the idea of United Europe can be reconciled.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker invited Morawiecki back to Brussels “to continue the discussion” begun at a summit last week, he said on Twitter.

A Polish government spokesperson said that Morawiecki and Juncker were expected to meet on 9 January.

European Council President Donald Tusk meanwhile urged Warsaw to “come to its senses” after Brussels triggered the censure procedure, seen as a “nuclear option” against an EU member state.

“I sincerely hope that the Polish government will come to its senses and not seek a conflict at all cost in a case where it is simply not right,” Tusk said in Krakow, southern Poland, quoted by the Polish PAP news agency.

Tusk, the liberal ex-Polish prime minister and arch-rival of the governing PiS party, added that Wednesday’s “decision (of the Commission) is the consequence of the profound change proposed by the parliamentary majority.”

De-communisation?

The PiS government “adopted a political philosophy according to which democratically chosen political power has the right to place itself above the law, which amounts in practice to the removal of judicial independence in Poland,” Tusk added.

Although it has said it is open to dialogue with the EU, Poland’s government has vowed to push ahead with the controversial reforms.

“We want to continue to reform our judiciary — we owe it to our constituents, it meets the expectations of society,” the foreign ministry said, adding that “we can not accept unilateral and hurtful opinions addressed to Poland”.

The ministry also said that Warsaw was prepared to “defend its positions before the Court of Justice”.

While the PiS government insists its reforms are part of its de-communisation drive, the Venice Commission — a Council of Europe group of constitutional law experts whose rulings member states commit to respect — has also voiced deep reservations.

While Warsaw “speaks of the ‘de-communisation’ of the Polish judicial system, some elements of the reform have a striking resemblance with the institutions which existed in the Soviet Union and its satellites,” the commission said in a recent statement.

© AFP 2017

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