23:46 GMT +322 July 2018
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    The President of the European Council and former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (L) is welcomed by Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo (R) during an official reception in Warsaw on September 13, 2016.

    Poland 'Hijacks' Democracy, Defies Deadline, Faces Never-Used EU Sanctions

    © AFP 2018 / Wojtek Radwanski
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    Poland has missed the October 31 deadline to amend controversial changes to its Constitutional Tribunal - demanded by the European Commission - and now faces becoming the first country to be hit with sanctions for breaching fundamental principles of membership of the EU.

    When Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło and her Law and Justice party (PiS) took power following the election of October 2015, she immediately began a process of reforming the country's Constitutional Tribunal. The government appointed three judges to the court, ignoring those proposed by the previous administration.

    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.

    Garbage collectors working for private companies protest against governmental law changing plans, in Warsaw, Poland, on May 10, 2016
    © AFP 2018 / WOJTEK RADWANSKI
    Garbage collectors working for private companies protest against governmental law changing plans, in Warsaw, Poland, on May 10, 2016

    Chief Justice Andrzej Rzeplinski, ruled that many sections of the law passed in December 2015 were "non-compliant with the Polish Constitution. However, the government in Warsaw said it would ignore the ruling, refusing to publish it, which meant — unpublished — the ruling did not stand.

    On July 27, the European Commission gave Warsaw three months to "take appropriate action to address this systemic threat to the rule of law as a matter of urgency and asks the Polish government to inform the Commission, within three months, of the steps taken to that effect."

    Teachers rally against education reform proposed by Poland's rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) government in Warsaw on October 10, 2016
    © AFP 2018 / JANEK SKARZYNSKI
    Teachers rally against education reform proposed by Poland's rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) government in Warsaw on October 10, 2016

    That deadline ran out on October 31 (nominally October 27) and Poland now faces what sanctions the EU thinks it can impose — at a time when the institutions of the EU are suffering from an increase in euroskepticism and lack of trust.

    Hijacked Values

    Members of the European Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) are now calling on the European Commission to activate the next step of the Rule of Law Framework — Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union — suspending Poland's voting rights on the European Council — the first time this has ever been invoked.

    "The PiS government has clearly lost sight of reality, as it continues to deepen Poland's constitutional crisis. The Commission recommendations are clear and based on a thorough analysis. So are the different opinions of the Venice Commission," former Belgian Prime Minister and ALDE Group leader, Guy Verhofstadt said.

    "It is scandalous that the Polish government has chosen to ignore them and pretend that the paralysis of the Constitutional Court is not a problem. Poland is in a constitutional limbo, with two parallel legal systems. This weakens the trust of Polish citizens in their own legal system and weakens the standing of Poland within the EU."

    ​"I stand with all the Polish citizens who have never ceased to fight for freedom, democracy and the rule of law — values hijacked by their government.

    "The EU must uphold the rule of law — all citizens, businesses and also Member States must abide by the same rules. As all steps of the rule of law procedure are now exhausted, the European Commission must be consistent and trigger the Article 7 Procedure," Verhofstadt said.

    Related:

    Brussels Steps Up Pressure on Poland Over Constitutional Court Crisis
    EU Standoff With Poland Over Rule of Law Exposes Impotence of Union
    EU Parliament Urges Poland to Solve Constitutional Crisis Before End of October
    Political Split in Poland Goes Beyond Bounds of Democracy
    Tags:
    constitutional court, constitutional crisis, rule of law, democracy, EU membership, Polish Law and Justice Political Party (PiS), European Commission, Beata Szydlo, Europe, Poland, Warsaw, Brussels
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