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European Commission issues formal warning to Poland, but seems short on leverage

European and US media widely report that the European Commission officially warned Poland yesterday that changes to its constitutional court endanger the rule of law, which is an unprecedented step by the EC. First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said he had written to the Polish government warning that recent alterations to the workings of Poland’s highest court posed “a systemic risk to the rule of law“.

Mr Timmermans said he had spoken to the Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydło, on Tuesday night and was pleased that she wanted their dialogue to continue. Rejecting accusations of interference, Mr Timmermans said he was “dispassionate and legal” and that the Commission had a duty to uphold the rule of law. “The EU is built on common values enshrined in the treaties“, he said, as quoted by The Guardian. “Making sure the rule of law is observed is a collective responsibility of all EU institutions and all member states“.

Daniel Brössler notes in SDZ that the European Commission would probably have liked to avoid the “resoluteness” it has to use with regards to Warsaw, but attempts to find a compromise over the last few months have failed. While the Polish government claims to be interested in a solution, PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński harshly criticises the European Commission for interfering in Poland’s rule of law. Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro commented that Warsaw believes that the EC’s assessment is one-sided and distorts the situation. Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Konrad Szymanski stated that the EC’s opinion was not unexpected. He added the Polish government was ready for consultations but this did not mean Poland would agree with any decision. 

Rzeczpospolita’s Michał Szułdrzyński criticises the opposition in Poland for the Law and Justice into anti-EU rhetoric and also PiS politicians for uttering unnecessary statements about a conflict between Warsaw and Brussels. Leaders of the opposition said that this might backfire on Poland, for example by affecting the Commission’s allocation or settling of EU funds. Daniel Brössler adds that the European Commission, as guardian of the treaties, is responsible for this type of case, and cannot look the other way. Brussels is flexing its muscles a little more” given that Poland was “rather unimpressed so far”, writes Renaud Honoré in Les Echos

However, The Guardian’s Julian Borger warns the European Commission that it cannot be sure of winning its showdown with Warsaw. If the Commission wanted to withdraw Poland’s voting rights it would need the support of every EU member state, and it is unlikely Hungary would back the EU on this issue. Poland has two weeks to reply to the Commission.



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