EU sizes up Poland over rule of law

The EU assessed on Monday whether there is backing for unprecedented sanctions against Poland's rightwing government over fears its court reforms threaten the rule of law.
The evaluation by European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans comes as Polish President Andrzej Duda prepares to unveil new versions of laws that have alarmed Brussels.
"I am going to inform the council (of EU ministers)... about the progress, or the developments rather, and then see how the council reacts," said Timmermans, a former Dutch foreign minister, as he entered the ministerial talks in Brussels.
"We will of course carfully study the amended laws if they are presented today by the president."
Timmermans was seeking the support of member states to take action if Poland's Law and Justice Party (PiS) refuses to back down over controversial judicial reforms that Brussels says pose a "systemic threat" to the rule of law.
If Warsaw fails to halt the measures, the commission has also warned it could trigger Article Seven of the EU's treaties -- the so-called "nuclear option" that could freeze Poland's EU voting rights.
Hungary has vowed to veto any such step against its Polish ally.
- Timmermans gets tough -
Timmermans, the right-hand man to European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, has been leading efforts for months to get Poland to comply with EU democracy standards.
Now he is taking a tougher approach and seeking the support of the European affairs ministers from the 28-nation bloc meeting in Brussels to move ahead with firm steps, if necessary.
In July, Timmermans said the Commission was ready to trigger Article Seven if Poland goes ahead and sacks supreme court justices, the most extreme of the laws.
Article Seven can be invoked by the Commission -- the executive arm of the bloc -- if an EU state is deemed to pose a systemic threat to the rule of law, and EU states can approve this by a majority.
But moving on to actual sanctions against Poland must be approved by all the remaining member states, meaning it could be vetoed by Budapest, which has also clashed with Brussels over democracy issues.
And Timmermans is also waiting to see how the Polish president, an independent allied with PiS, moves ahead with judicial reforms, an EU official said.
- Progress report -
In July, Duda surprised many when he vetoed one bill that would have reinforced political control over the Supreme Court and another that allowed parliament to choose members of a body designed to protect the independence of the courts.
In Warsaw, a spokesman said Duda would publish his amended draft laws on Monday.
Poland said the veto from Duda had made the EU's concerns futile.
"A good part of the recomendations we have received from the EU are plainly unfounded," said Poland's deputy foreign minister for European affairs, Konrad Szymanski.
It was not immediately clear whether the proposed changes will be cosmetic or whether they will reduce the justice minister's role in appointing judges.
In July, the Commission also launched separate legal action against Poland over one of the reforms which could see Warsaw hauled before the EU's top court and fined.
The Polish government is also defying a European Court of Justice injunction to suspend logging in the Bialowieza Forest, Europe's last primeval woodland.
The reforms have triggered mass street protests in Poland and prompted Polish freedom icon Lech Walesa to express concern about his country's fate in Europe.
by Cédric SIMON
© 2017 AFP
EU sizes up Poland over rule of law EU sizes up Poland over rule of law Reviewed by Alexander Von Stern on 05:39:00 Rating: 5