Press release published on the European Parliament website, 25 May 2020 – accessible here

The attacks on the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights in Poland need to be addressed urgently, say a majority of MEPs in the Civil Liberties Committee.

In a committee debate on Monday, Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES) presented his draft interim report on the December 2017 European Commission proposal to act in view of the perceived threats to the independence of the judiciary in Poland. He pointed to the recent worrying developments in the country related to the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights.

Judicial independence, democratic institutions and fundamental rights under threat

Afterwards, the President of the European Association of Judges, José Igreja Matos, and a representative of the Polish judges association IUSTITIA, Joanna Hetnarowicz-Sikora, presented a series of concerns linked primarily to judicial independence and the rule of law. They also mentioned other worries around democracy and elections, as well as fundamental rights (especially those of minorities), such as the freedom of speech and assembly, and their curtailment in light of the pandemic.

Most MEPs shared the concern over the state of EU core values in the country. They referred to a systematic and continuing attack against judicial independence and democratic institutions, which poses a threat to the very structure of the EU, and called for decisive action by the Council and the Commission, including budgetary measures, in order to protect EU core values.

Some speakers mentioned that further input from the Polish authorities is necessary to have a balanced debate, while several references were made to the need for an independent, permanent EU mechanism to ensure that monitoring processes in the area of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights remain impartial and objective.

Next steps

MEPs have until 28 May to table amendments to the draft interim report. The committee will vote on the text in July, with the plenary vote scheduled in September 2020.

Background

Parliament agrees with the Commission that rule of law is at risk in Poland, which faces multiple infringement proceedings for this reason (with the latest one initiated on 29 April), but the Council has so far not taken a formal step in that regard.

According to Article 7 of the Treaty of the EU, the Council may determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values. Before doing so, ministers shall hear the views of the national authorities. The Polish authorities have presented their positions in front of the Council on three occasions, between June and December 2018.

At a later stage, the European Council may determine, by unanimity and with the Parliament’s consent, that there is a serious and persistent breach of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights. This could eventually lead to sanctions, including suspension of voting rights in the Council.

In its resolution of 17 April about the EU’s response against COVID-19, the European Parliament pointed to recent moves by the Polish authorities to change the electoral code in order to hold Presidential elections in the middle of a pandemic. MEPs warned this may “undermine the concept of free, equal, direct and secret elections as enshrined in the Polish Constitution”.

A recording of the debate is available by clicking here.