French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that they would support using Article 7 against Poland if the European Commission decides in its favor next week. The two leaders, however, also said that they were hoping that the country’s new Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki would do whatever it takes to avoid the sanctions through an open dialogue with the EU.
Yet, it was Poland’s new prime minister who said he expected that the EU would impose unprecedented sanctions on his country following its controversial changes to the judiciary. Poland’s right wing Law and Justice (PiS) party began making court reforms after it came to power in 2015, insisting that the courts need an overhaul to get rid of its communist legacy and fight corruption. However, Brussels has repeatedly warned Warsaw that the reforms pose a threat to democracy and the rule of law, which all member states signed up to when they joined the EU.
Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty is sometimes called “the nuclear option” and it has never been used. It was designed to protect the EU’s core values such as democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law. If the EU witnesses a “serious and persistent breach” of these principles, it can activate Article 7 and suspend some of the EU membership rights, such as voting in the EU Council or access to the single market.
As an infringement procedure to be used against member countries that have committed fundamental rights violations, Article 7 was introduced to reassure skeptics when the EU wanted to expand to the east. In the late 1990s, some EU member states warned that such violations could likely occur in the young post-Communist democracies.