Commission starts rule of law debate

Agnieszka S.

It seems that Poland’s actions are perceived as negative in the eyes of the Western European Member States. This time however, the case is much more serious than a missing flag. In the face of the recent developmental changes that the government of Poland had introduced, the European Commission has expressed its concerns regarding whether those changes operate in accordance with the Rule of Law or not. Since the Commission’s task is to ensure the respect of the European Union law along with safeguarding the fundamental values of the Union, some steps had to be taken in order to clarify this situation.

EC

Polish Constitutional Tribunal and the media case

The first issue is related to the composition of the Polish Constitutional Court. The European Union has started to work on that matter on the 23rd of December 2015, when Mr Timmermans wrote a request to have further information about the different Constitutional Tribunal judgements of the Polish Government. On the same day the Polish Government had requested a legal assessment from the Venice Commission (a body of the Council of Europe through which independent experts of constitutional law give advisory opinions that are not binding) as it was proposed in the letter of Mr Timmermans. However without waiting for the answer, the Polish Government began to finish the legislative process. The statement of the Polish Government concerning this matter is very simple – they are trying to clean up the mess that the previous governing party has made. Changes that were made in the Polish Constitutional Court are a fight of gaining power in this area, but what is worth considering is the fact that when the previous government in Poland was acting in the same way, nobody was interested in that and no one wanted to take a closer look on the case. However, it does not justify the actions taken by PiS because as a new governing party, they should try to rule the country in a better way than the previous one. (read more here)

The second topic of this significant attention of the EU is related to the legal changes on the Public Service Broadcasters. In another letter received by the Polish Government on the 30th of December 2015 in which, along with asking for more details on the situation, Vice-President Timmermans asked if the EU law and the need to promote media pluralism were taken into account while preparing those changes. Poland answered by denying the possible disadvantageous impact on the media pluralism claiming and that in other Member States the situation is very similar and no one is judging them for it. (read more)

Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission (EPA/PATRICK SEEGER)

Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission (EPA/PATRICK SEEGER)

The EU has a strong interest in safeguarding and strengthening the rule of law across the Union. However, in order to take some actions, there must be some suspicions about the defect on a system that prevents the country from a well-functioning legal system. Then it has to collect some data – evidences of breaching the law, it was done in a debate that took place on the 13th of January 2016, the main officials responsible for the presentation of the EU’s point of view were: responsible for the framework of the rule of law – First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and two Commissioners – Věra Jourová responsible for justice and Günther Oettinger responsible for media policy. The debate ended with the decision of the Commission to initiate the monitoring procedure of the rule of law in Poland. Next step was the dialogue with the Member State that took place on the 19th of January 2016 in the European Parliament, where the actual Prime Minister of Poland Beata Szydło had to defend the arguments of the Polish Government concerning two mentioned cases. PM Szydło put a lot of effort to convince everyone that Poland is a democratic country and indicated that:

“our history has taught us that our Polish issues should be settle in our Polish home. Because whenever they were fixed for us by others, we ended up very badly”.

The forthcoming steps that European Commission can take are giving recommendations to Poland. In the case of ignoring Commission’s recommendations for changes by the EU member, the very last step would be to put specific sanctions on Poland. Though, voting by unanimity would have to be used in such a case.

Polish PM Beata Szydło (AP/EPA)

Polish PM Beata Szydło (AP/EPA)

Some may think that the EU should not interfere with Poland’s matters. While the whole Europe is shaken and full of fears in regard of what is happening in one of its countries, the EU should always keep the Rule of Law as a main principle. Everyone can agree that Poland has some obligations to fulfil not only as a Member State of European Union but most of all as a civilized democratic country in Europe. They should always put the Rule of Law as a main principle. Although what strikes me the most in this situation is not actually the question of a breach of law but the media influence and their actual input in the whole situation. For the past few months, in Polish newspapers, news on the television or radio we could hear more and more negative statements and criticism about the governing party, even though they have just started their cadence. It seems that the other party is mad following its loss. Unfortunately for them democracy assumes in itself that the majority has welcome PiS as the winning party. Reputation is something that each of us is building up for years and it is a real shame that Poland is losing its standing in the international arena. Thanks to the media, now everyone is scared away from Poland.

References:

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-62_en.htm

http://www.tvn24.pl/wiadomosci-z-kraju,3/beata-szydlo-w-trakcie-debaty-w-parlamencie-europejskim,612106.html

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