19:48 GMT06 August 2020
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    Poland is one step closer to becoming the first EU member state to be stripped of its voting rights in EU institutions as a result of a row between Brussels and Warsaw over controversial reforms to Poland's constitutional court.

    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.

    The changes stated that there should be a six-month period before the tribunal can examine a case, rather than two weeks, which critics say allows the government to pass legislation that will go unchallenged for months.

    Despite a ruling that many sections of the law passed "non-compliant with the Polish Constitution," the Polish Government has refused to move.

    Sanctions Warning

    Warsaw was given a warning, June 1, 2016, that changes to its constitutional court went against the EU's values on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. It has threatened — for the first time ever — to invoke Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which would lead to Poland being suspended from any vote in the European Council.

    A woman holds the Polish national flag as she takes part in a march demanding their government to respect the country's constitution in Warsaw, Poland, March 12, 2016.
    © REUTERS / Kacper Pempel
    A woman holds the Polish national flag as she takes part in a march demanding their government to respect the country's constitution in Warsaw, Poland, March 12, 2016.

    First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said in July:

    "Despite the dialogue pursued with the Polish authorities since the beginning of the year, the Commission considers the main issues which threaten the rule of law in Poland have not been resolved. We are therefore now making concrete recommendations to the Polish authorities on how to address the concerns so that the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland can carry out its mandate to deliver effective constitutional review."

    The Polish Government has offered some concessions, but — with less than a month to go before the threatened sanctions — Timmermans has told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday (September 27):

    "At this stage, the dispute concerning the composition and the judgments of the constitutional of the tribunal remains unresolved."

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    constitutional court, judges, judicial system, rule of law, democracy, constitution, European Commission, European Parliament, European Council, European Union, Frans Timmermans, Europe, Poland, Warsaw, Brussels
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