EU Standoff With Poland Over Rule of Law Exposes Impotence of Union

© REUTERS / Kacper PempelPoland's Prime Minister Beata Szydlo meets with Frans Timmermans, deputy head of the European Commission at the Prime Minister Chancellery in Warsaw, Poland May 24, 2016.
Poland's Prime Minister Beata Szydlo meets with Frans Timmermans, deputy head of the European Commission at the Prime Minister Chancellery in Warsaw, Poland May 24, 2016. - Sputnik International
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Members of the European Parliament have urged the Polish government to solve the country's constitutional crisis within the three-month deadline set by the Commission on July 27, in a move which is unlikely to have much effect in Warsaw in the continuing row over sovereignty.

Poland and Brussels have been at loggerhead for months ever since the government in Warsaw made controversial changes to the Constitutional tribunal, which critics say politicize the judiciary. The changes were introduced soon after Beata Szydło's Law & Order party won the 2015 elections.

© AFP 2022 / Janek SkarzynskiThousands of people march in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw to protest against the government's moves that have paralyzed the nation’s highest legislative court, the Constitutional Tribunal on March 12, 2016.
Thousands of people march in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw to protest against the government's moves that have paralyzed the nation’s highest legislative court, the Constitutional Tribunal on March 12, 2016.  - Sputnik International
Thousands of people march in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw to protest against the government's moves that have paralyzed the nation’s highest legislative court, the Constitutional Tribunal on March 12, 2016.

The standoff between Brussels and Warsaw has become a significant issue, with the European Commission threatening to take action against Poland for breaching major principles of EU membership, notably on the rule of law and media freedom. However, Warsaw is remaining defiant, saying Brussels is interfering in the sovereignty of a member state.

In December 2015, the Polish Government added five "politically friendly" judges to the country's Constitutional Tribunal, in a move seen by critics as making it easier to push through legislation with less opposition.

The amendment meant that the tribunal would need a two-thirds majority to take a decision on constitutional matters instead of a simple majority. The minimum number of judges needed to make a decision was also raised from nine to 13, making it more difficult to convene a quorum.

Polish national flag - Sputnik International
EU Pressure on Poland Over Rule of Law Will Boost Popularity of Ruling Party

Amendments have subsequently been made to the reforms of the constitution, but critics still say the changes amount to political interference in the legal process. Judgements have been made against the Polish Government by the country's courts, but they can only become legal if the government publishes them, which it has chosen not to do.

Media Control

In January, the Polish parliament passed a new law that gives the government the power to directly appoint the heads of public broadcasters, which has been heavily criticized for being an effective clampdown on the independence of the media.

In a resolution, passed by 510 votes to 160 with 29 abstentions on September 14, MEPs voted on a proposition to remind Poland's government that "the European Union is founded on the values […] which were approved by the Polish people on the occasion of the referendum in 2003" and "operates on the basis of the presumption of mutual trust that Member States conform with democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights."

The motion referred to the "paralysis of the Constitutional Tribunal and the refusal of the Polish Government to publish all its judgments."

​Meanwhile the European Commission has said that:

"There is a situation of a systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland. The fact that the Constitutional Tribunal is prevented from fully ensuring an effective constitutional review adversely affects its integrity, stability and proper functioning, which is one of the essential safeguards of the rule of law in Poland."

However, Poland is highly likely to ignore Brussels, plunging the EU into further crisis amid chaos over immigration, Brexit rising euroskepticism and calls for the fundamental reforms of the EU institutions

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