Senior European Commission officials have warned they could invoke Article 7 for Poland this week. Poland and the European Union have been in a festering dispute for two years over authoritarian judicial reforms.
The European Union’s executive arm threatened to strip Poland of its voting rights in the bloc, in comments to news outlets on Tuesday.
The European Commission meets on Wednesday to discuss judicial reforms in Poland that it says have broken its rules on human rights and democratic values. Senior EU officials told Reuters news agency and Politico they could use the meeting to invoke Article 7 of the founding Lisbon Treaty.
Article 7 can be invoked when members identify a “clear risk of a serious breach” of EU values, suspending certain rights including voting privileges. It could also strip Poland of billions of euros of EU aid.
“Unless the Polish government postpones these court reforms, we will have no choice but to trigger Article 7,” a senior EU official told Reuters news agency.
“There were invitations from the Commission and many were not accepted,” a senior European diplomat with knowledge of the talks between Warsaw and Brussels told Politico. “There have been complicated legal analyses from the Polish side, which just repeated the well-known positions of the government.”
Article 7 requires a four-fifths majority to invoke, so any moves could still be blocked. Its ally Hungary will likely argue strongly against it.
Poland has been strongly condemned for judicial reforms that would limit judges’ independence and allow the government to hire and fire judges. But Poland’s euroskeptic Law and Justice (PiS) party argues the reforms are required to allow courts to become more efficient and to democratize the judiciary.
The reforms, combined with huge opposition to the EU’s refugee resettlement plans have led to festering dispute between the EU and Poland.
Poland’s new prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in Brussels last week that “the decision has already been made.” The Commission’s deputy head Frans Timmermans warned in July that Poland was “perilously close” to facing sanctions.
Last week German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron said they hoped procedures against Warsaw could still be averted.
“I still hope that maybe conversations can be had with the new prime minister that would make such a procedure unnecessary,” Merkel said at a joint press conference, while Macron called on Poland to “make the necessary efforts” and remove any ambiguity over the reforms.
“It is also clear though that we have clear rule-of-law principles and if the commission feels compelled, Germany will, of course, support this process,” Merkel added.