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20 Jul, 2017 10:36

‘Threat to rule of law’: EU may strip Poland of voting rights over judicial reforms

‘Threat to rule of law’: EU may strip Poland of voting rights over judicial reforms

Poland has come under fire from the European Commission, which may opt to trigger Article 7, which includes possible deprivation of voting rights in the European Council, in response to Warsaw's proposed overhaul of the judiciary.

The European Commission is threatening to sanction Warsaw if it fails to take into account the commission’s “grave concerns” and amend the proposed judicial reforms. The new measures, initiated by Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), will empower parliament and the justice minister to appoint judges to the Supreme Court.

“If adopted, [the laws] would seriously erode the independence of the Polish judiciary,” First Vice-President Frans Timmermans stated following the European Commission meeting on Wednesday. 

Calling the proposed reforms a “threat to the rule of law,” the official said that they will mean that “judges will serve at the pleasure of the political leaders and be dependent upon them from their appointment to their pension.”

“It should come as no surprise to anyone that, given the latest developments, we are coming very close to triggering Article 7,” Timmermans said adding that Brussels hasn’t taken any formal decisions, as Poland has not yet implemented the reforms.

Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union is triggered when an EU state is suspected of a “serious breach” of the union’s values and enables to “suspend certain of the rights” of a member state, including voting rights in the European Council.

Poland has fired back at the criticism, calling the reaction premature and vowing to defend the proposed measures in Europe’s highest court.

“This action is unfounded and unjustified as the process to reform the Polish judiciary has only begun. This action is also premature. There is no place for any ‘personal mission’ on the part of the Commission Vice-President,” Polish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The ministry added that Warsaw is ready to provide further information on the reforms of its judiciary, and called for dialogue instead of what it sees as “ultimatum” from Brussels.

“If other procedures are triggered, we will defend our position, including before the Court of Justice,” Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski said responding to Timmermans as cited by Daily Express. 

Defending the reforms, Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said that such decisions are the country’s internal matter and accused the EU of abuse of power.

“Those matters that we are dealing with right now belong exclusively to the jurisdiction of the country, so what we have here is an abuse [of their powers],” Kaczynski said as cited by Reuters. 

On Thursday, Poland's lower house of parliament passed the controversial bill, which had been previously sent to a parliamentary committee following a heated debate among Polish lawmakers. The bill has yet to be approved by the upper house. Apart from opposition and the EU criticism, the proposed measures also triggered protests in the country as thousands gathered outside the Polish Parliament building on Monday.