Press conference with Frans Timmermans and Margaritis Schinas on January 13, 2015 / ec.europa.eu

For the first time, the European Commission has launched the so-called “rule of law procedure,” which gives Brussels the right to assess whether two reforms introduced by the Polish government would undermine the rule of law. The new texts establish strong control on public broadcasters and reduce the power of the Polish constitutional court.

The vice-president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, announced that the European executive will launch the first stage of the so-called “rule of law” mechanism. This procedure was created in 2014 and can be used if there is a systemic threat to the rule of law in any of the EU member states.

“We are taking this step in light of the information currently available to us, in particular the fact that binding rulings of the Constitutional Tribunal are currently not respected,” Timmermans stated.

However, the Dutch Commissioner stressed that this first procedure will be handled with a “cooperative approach” based on dialogue.

Timmermans said he was confident that the Polish government will cooperate.

“I have no fear. I think this procedure will help us clarify what the situation really is. Given what I have heard until now and also given the context we’ve had on the level of officials, I think there is a basic willingness of the Polish government to enter in a dialogue with us and I am looking forward to that dialogue,” Timmermans told Euranet Plus.

Tensions between Poland and the EU have risen since last October, when the party of the eurosceptic Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the Law and Justice party (PiS,) came to power. The new government has been accused of trying to gain control over the country’s constitutional court and the public broadcasters by introducing new laws.

The Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło criticized the accusations levelled at Poland with clear references to the recent, tragic history of the country. (audio in Polish)

“We will do everything to calm this situation and to clear up unjustified and false information about the situation in Poland. Polish matters should be resolved here in Poland and not abroad. Our history shows that every time our problems moved to the international arena, it ended in a tragic way,” Szydło said.

Timmermans told the press in Brussels that this move against Poland could have been avoided if the national government would have responded earlier to the letters he sent to Warsaw.

In the first letter, sent on December 23, the Commission warned the Polish government that the constitutional reform could undermine the functioning of the court and asked for more explanations about the planned measures.

A week later, in a second letter, Brussels requested information about the proposed reforms to the governance of Poland’s public media.

Despite the European Commission’s decision, the relations between Warsaw and Brussels won’t be endangered, according to the Polish government spokesman Rafał Bochene, who talked to reporters after the Commission’s announcement.

On Tuesday, a debate on the state of the rule of law in Poland will be held in the European Parliament in Strasbourg in the presence of Prime Minister Szydło.

The European Commission will give its first assessment in March.

“I truly believe in the cooperative nature of this mechanism,” Timmermans said, adding that he hoped the Polish government will answer his letters.

“This has nothing to do with politics,” he said. “It is the responsibility of the European Commission to protect the treaty.”

  • Author: Laeticia Markakis, Euranet Plus News Agency