EU affairs ministers pressed the Polish government on Tuesday for several hours over its controversial judicial reforms. The hearing, a first in the history of the European Union, was constructive, in the words of European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans.
In December, the European Commission opened for the first time an Article 7 procedure against Poland, in response to the judicial reform led by the Conservative government, which the EU executive fears will threaten the rule of law and make the judiciary susceptible to political influences. In theory, the full application of article 7 could lead to the suspension of Poland’s voting rights in the Council; however, Hungary’s right-wing leader Viktor Orban, has said the he will veto any such measures.
Tuesday’s hearing is the first part of the procedure, which may result in a suspension of Polish voting rights in the various councils of the European Union. After a presentation by the Polish executive that Mr Timmermans described as “detailed”, each Member State had the opportunity to ask two questions during a “constructive” and “unprejudiced” interview, added the Vice-President of the Commission.
That does not mean, however, that the European Commission now believes that threats to the rule of law are unfounded, Mr Timmermans warned. “Warsaw gives no indication that further changes will be made to the reform.” The Commission will have to continue its discussions with Poland. “We may not agree on everything, but we must be able to establish that the rule of law is no longer under threat, and I remain at the disposal of the Polish authorities.” A decision is to be taken at the next meeting of the European Affairs Ministers in July regarding the continuation of the procedure.
The compulsory retirement of 27 of the 72 Constitutional Court judges on 3 July is one of the stumbling blocks, but the Commission is also concerned about the new powers granted to the Minister of Justice, who can now dismiss the presidents of the court or extend the career of the magistrates.