EU launches unprecedented process against Poland over courts

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 20, 2017 7:20 AM

By Jan Strupczewski

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU executive launched an unprecedented process on Wednesday to suspend Poland's voting rights in the European Union after two years of dispute over judicial reforms that Brussels says undermine Polish courts' independence.

The European Commission, the guardian of EU law, will now ask the other EU governments to declare that Poland's changes to the judiciary constitute "a clear risk of a serious breach" of EU values -- especially the rule of law.

However, it gave Warsaw, where a new prime minister took office only this month, three months to remedy the situation and said it could rescind its decision if it did so.

"The Commission has today concluded that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law in Poland," the Commission said in a statement.

"Judicial reforms in Poland mean that the country's judiciary is now under the political control of the ruling majority. In the absence of judicial independence, serious questions are raised about the effective application of EU law."

The Commission's deputy head, First Vice President Frans Timmermans, who has conducted talks with the Polish government dominated by Law and Justice Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski for the past two years, said he was acting "with a heavy heart" but was obliged to take action to protect the Union as a whole.

"We are open for dialogue 24/7," Timmermans said.

But he insisted: "As guardians of the treaty, the Commission is under a strict responsibility to act ... If the application of the rule of law is left completely to the individual member states, then the whole of the EU will suffer."

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)