The European Commission Set to Close the Rule of Law Procedure against Poland

The European Commission plans to withdraw Article 7 TEU from Poland, marking a significant step towards a democratic European plan and addressing EU-Poland disputes.

The European Commission Set to Close the Rule of Law Procedure against Poland
Source: Viktorya Sergeeva via Pexels 2024.

09-05-2024

Innocenti Chiara

Human Rights and Europe Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence.

 

 

 

On May 6, 2024, the European Commission notified its intention to close the rule of law procedure against Poland due to a positive reversal of the trend recently inaugurated by the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. The withdrawal of Article 7 TEU, once it gets the green light of Member States within the European Council, will represent a crucial breakthrough for Poland and its people and an extraordinary achievement for the European Union as a whole.

 

This decision crowns the efforts of Mr. Tusk, who, upon taking the reins of government as Prime Minister last year, recognised the EU-Poland disputes to be a major point on the agenda, right away striving to adopt corrective measures and address the issue. After years of misgivings over the compliance of Poland with EU requirements, Mr. Tusk eventually presented before the EU institutions an action plan inclusive of nine bills, which are specifically designed to restore the independence of the judiciary and strike the fair division of powers demanded to serve on the European Community.

 

The discord between Brussels and Poland originated a long time ago, after a hard-right, Eurosceptic Party came to power in 2015, and thirteen reforms jolted the structure of the domestic justice system. These adjustments, massively affecting the Constitutional Tribunal, Supreme Court, ordinary courts, National Council for the Judiciary, prosecution service, and National School of Judiciary, soon came under attack by the European Commission, as they proved susceptible to enable the local legislature and executive to interfere in the composition, functioning, and decisions whatsoever of the judicial branch. On December 20, 2017, with the College of Commissioners submitting the Reasoned Proposal for the attention of the European Council, urging for a decision to be taken under Article 7 (1) of the Treaty on European Union, “a clear risk of serious breach” of one of the major fundamental values of the Union – the rule of law – was detected, and a new Rule of Law Recommendation complementing the relevant previous three documents, issued, in an effort to call the Polish authorities to concrete actions. Over time, the European Commission, pending that unanimity within the Council that is necessary to establish the existence of the proposed violation, moved on in its infringement procedure referring the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) adducing a blatant violation of the EU law. The legal concerns of the commissioners, then, were grounded on the retirement regime that Poland introduced with the Law on the Ordinary Courts impacting unequally the retirement age of judges on the ground of their gender. If for males the minimum age was set at 65 years old, for women it was fixed at 60, which the Commission held to be in open contradiction with both Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), and Directive 2006/54 on gender equality in employment.

 

A similar conflict situation emerging within the acquis communautaire involved and still involves the Hungary of Viktor Orban, whose policies continue worrying the European Parliament since September 2018. Also in this case, among the major areas of concern, loomed in fact the independence of judiciary; this time, to be contextualised in what was later named a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy”, namely, a political system characterised by an unfair functioning of the electoral system, corruption, conflicts of interest, repression of freedom of expression and associations, and forfeiting of rights of minorities, including LGBTQI+ and migrants. On account of this, during the recent plenary debate taking place on April 10, the European Parliament adopted a resolution to deplore the institutional inaction of the Council ahead of what is clearly and widely deemed as a steady hollowing of EU values, with civil society’s work, EU’s financial interests, and single market principles at stake. At the same time, criticisms were levelled at the European Commission, hence brought before the EU Court of Justice (EUCJ), for approving the release of €10.2 billion frozen EU funds while Hungary keeps backsliding on democracy despite the repeated pleas.

 

As in the case of Hungary, initially, Poland seemed to be failing to find a resolution, with the European Council locking in a stalemate because of the objective and extreme difficulty in reaching an inner unanimity on the political level. Consequently, the announcement that the European Commission has unexpectedly issued to declare the withdrawal of Article 7 procedure in respect of Poland today, cannot help but rekindle the hope of those who fervently craved for a completion of an entirely democratic European plan since long. The momentous event indicates that, within the new Polish political reality, there is no longer a “clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law”, and consequently, that the EU defensive mechanism put in place throughout these years has what it takes to function. The action plan that Mr. Tusk presented before the EU institutions was deemed to credibly fulfil the requests in a short time. This breakthrough, on top of epitomising a political victory for the Prime Minister, will necessarily go down in history as “a testament to the resilience of the rule of law and democracy in Europe”, commented the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. 

 

 

Sources and further readings:

                                

Liboreiro, J. (2024, May 6). Brussels moves to close rule of law procedure against Poland. Euronews. Retrieved May 6, 2024, from

https://www.euronews.com/my-europe/2024/05/06/brussels-moves-to-close-rule-of-law-procedure-against-poland.

 

(2024, May 6), Commission intends to close Article 7 (1) TEU procedure for Poland. European Commission. Retrieved May 6, 2024, from

https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_24_2461.

(2017, December 20), Rule of Law: European Commission acts to defend judicial independence in Poland. European Commission. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from

https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_17_5367.

(2023, December 11), Hungary’s rule of law disputes with Brussels explained. Politico. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from

https://www.politico.eu/article/hungary-rule-of-law-eu-summit-viktor-orban-brussels.

Wahl, T. (2020, May 19), Rule of Law Developments in Hungary. Eucrim. Retrieved May 6, 2024, from

https://eucrim.eu/news/rule-law-developments-hungary.

(2022, September 15), MEPs: Hungary can no longer be considered a full democracy. News European Parliament. Retrieved May 6, 2024, from

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20220909IPR40137/meps-hungary-can-no-longer-be-considered-a-full-democracy.

(2020, October 7), Parliament demands a legally binding, effective mechanism to protect EU values. News European Parliament. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20201002IPR88432/parliament-demands-a-legally-binding-effective-mechanism-to-protect-eu-values.

Wlodarczak-semczuk, A. (2024, February 20). EU welcomes new Polish government's plan to 'restore rule of law'. Reuters. Retrieved May 7, 2024, from

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/polish-justice-minister-present-rule-law-action-plan-brussels-2024-02-20.