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European Commission Sounds Out Members Over Sanctions Against Poland

© AP Photo / Czarek SokolowskiThe High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini attends a press conference, as the shadow of Poland's Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski is seen in the background, after a meeting with foreign ministers of Central and South-Eastern European countries, in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini attends a press conference, as the shadow of Poland's Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski is seen in the background, after a meeting with foreign ministers of Central and South-Eastern European countries, in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. - Sputnik International
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The European Commission is said to be gauging the opinions of member states over breaches by Poland of the EU's principle of the Rule of Law, over changes the Warsaw government has made to its Constitutional Court, which could lead to sanctions being imposed for the first time ever.

The Polish government has been in dispute with the Commission for more than a year and had been given a series of warnings — including a threat to withdraw Poland's voting rights in the EU, a sanction that has never been invoked before.

However, in a sign that the Commission is wary of imposing the sanctions and further fueling anti-Brussels sentiment in Poland and elsewhere, it is said to be sounding out the views of member states. "The idea is to gauge EU governments' views and support for moving forward," an EU official said, according to Reuters.

In December, 2016, the Commission officially warned Warsaw that it would remove its voting rights in the EU, if the Polish government did not roll back controversial changes to its Constitutional Court. With Poland defiant in the face of the criticism — denying any "systemic threat to the rule of law," the credibility of the Commission is now at stake.

The dispute arises from changes to Poland's Constitutional Tribunal, December 2015, when 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.

Another 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.

© REUTERS / Agencja Gazeta/Kuba AtysPeople hold signs with the image of Andrzej Rzeplinski, head of Poland's Constitutional Court, as they take part in demonstration in front of the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw, Poland December 18, 2016.
People hold signs with the image of Andrzej Rzeplinski, head of Poland's Constitutional Court, as they take part in demonstration in front of the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw, Poland December 18, 2016. - Sputnik International
People hold signs with the image of Andrzej Rzeplinski, head of Poland's Constitutional Court, as they take part in demonstration in front of the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw, Poland December 18, 2016.

Chief Justice Andrzej Rzeplinski — whose fixed term as president of the Constitutional Tribunal came to end, December, was replaced by another justice, Julia Przylebska, who, with her husband, is seen as being close to the Polish President Andrzej Duda.

The constitutional court changes — as well as a clampdown on the media — have led to months of street protests throughout Poland.

​The European's threat involves invoking Article 7 of the Treaties of the European Union, which allows for it to: "suspend certain of the rights deriving from the application of the Treaties to the Member State in question, including the voting rights of the representative of the government of that Member State in the Council." Article 7 has never — so far — been invoked against an EU state.

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