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MEPs issue warning to Poland over rule of law

PR dla Zagranicy
Victoria Bieniek 15.11.2017 15:00
Poland must respect the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, and fundamental rights, otherwise the country’s right to vote in the Council of the European Union may be suspended, the European Parliament has warned.
A Pole's seat in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Photo: EPA/PATRICK SEEGERA Pole's seat in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Photo: EPA/PATRICK SEEGER

After a Wednesday discussion of the rule of law in Poland, the European Parliament said the situation represented a “clear risk of a serious breach” of the European Union’s values, and voted to trigger the first stage of the “Article Seven” procedure.

Under Article Seven – the European Union’s back up plan for dealing with member states that are seen as violating fundamental rights – the council would give a formal warning.

If the risk persists and the Polish authorities refuse to comply with the European Union's recommendations, the procedure might lead to the suspension of Poland's voting rights in the council,” the European Parliament said.

'One-sided document'

The Polish foreign ministry said the resolution adopted by the European Parliament "should be regarded as an instrument for exerting political pressure on Poland."

The ministry also said that the resolution is "a one-sided document that is too often based on political assessments, while making too little use of in-depth legal analysis. Such an approach is detrimental to the process of European integration as it only leads to stigmatizing a Member State."

The European Parliament said “a reasoned proposal” would be drawn up, a document needed to call on the council to trigger the rule of law mechanism.

The European Parliament also urged Poland not to proceed with new laws unless they fully guarantee the independence of the courts, to stop large-scale logging in the Białowieża forest, to respect the right of freedom of assembly, to condemn the recent “xenophobic and fascist” November 11 Independence Day march in Warsaw, and to provide free and accessible contraception and the so-called morning-after pill available over the counter.

Raising the stakes

The MEPs' decision on Wednesday raises the stakes in an ongoing row between Brussels and Warsaw over the rule of law in Poland.

When asked about the Independence Day march in Warsaw, the leader of Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jarosław Kaczyński, said that there were some "completely unacceptable" incidents, but added that these occurrences were the "fringe of the fringe" and that they were “very likely a provocation.”

Supporters of Poland’s ruling conservatives have argued that reforms of the justice system are vital, and have accused judges of being an elite, self-serving clique often out of touch with the problems of ordinary citizens.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło said she would take up Wednesday’s "scandalous" events in the European Parliament at an EU summit on Friday.

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