First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans has criticized Poland for its planned reform of the judiciary system that is seen by many as a threat to the separation of powers, democracy and the rule of law. Mr. Timmermans said that the EU executive was seriously pondering triggering Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, which presupposes sanctions. In response to this threat, Stanislaw Pieta of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) commented that “Mr Timmermans doesn’t impress us at all”.
According to PiS MEP Zdzislaw Krasnodebski (ECR), Mr Timmermans’ threats are an “attempt at applying psychological pressure on PiS government”. He added that the “Commission’s role is not to run the Polish legislative process. A function of a European Commission Vice-President is nowhere to be seen in the lawmaking process in Poland. The EC’s role is to guard the treaties and if, after a bill is passed, it decides the law has been violated, it is time to voice a problem and take action.”
The Polish government has been continuously moving against democratic norms by increasing government control over the news media outlets, cracking down on public gatherings and restricting activities of nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations. In its latest move, the Law and Justice party wants to take control of the last major independent institution in the country – the courts. The party is pushing for a number of bills into law – one would force Poland’s top judges to resign unless they were appointment by the government. Another bill, which has already been approved, would give the government control over who can become a judge.
According to Article 7 that the Commission is considering, the EU member states may “determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a member state of the [EU’s] values” in which case the Council will hear the member state in question and eventually also decide to suspend some of its rights, including the voting rights of the representative of the government of that member state in the Council.