the European Parliament and the European Commission be in court soon? Parliament believes that the committee does not do enough to violate the rule of law in Poland. So the commission has two more weeks to show the muscle balls. If the committee fails to do so, the European Parliament will take its own fellow politicians to court.
That sounds special, and it is. The issue starts in Poland. There, the Government Party of Law and Justice (PiS) has implemented reforms in justice law that is highly criticised since 2015 — internationally and domestically. At the heart of the matter is that the rule of law and independence of judges are under pressure.
In Poland, there is great disappointment and misunderstanding about the slow response from Brussels to violations of the rule of law by the Polish government. According to a Polish professor of law, it is crucial for Europe that the European Union responds. “What happens in Poland creates a dangerous precedent for other countries.”
Europe correspondent Saskia Dekkers traveled to Poland and met Polish judge Pawel Juszczyszyn. He dares to ask critical questions about the degradation of the rule of law – and that is not without consequences.
Brussels has been in the clinch with countries such as Poland, Malta and Hungary about the rule of law there for years. If a country fails to comply with European rules on free press, freedom of education and ensuring fair justice, the European Commission can ‘default’ a country.
Such a procedure can lead to the European Court of Justice. In the last European committee, Commissioner Frans Timmermans did a lot of work – and was quite right from that Court. In Poland‘s case, this resulted in the Warsaw government being a little less focused on judicial law. But that procedure takes a very long time, so the commission got a new stick to hit with – money.
Many European grants are subject to conditions. Since 1 January of this year, the European Commission has now been able to start a procedure to recover money or not transfer subsequent payments. The committee just needs to go through. A powerful tool, but the committee has not used it yet. And most Members of the European Parliament want the committee to do so.
The European Parliament has now approved – by an overwhelming majority – the court to enforce that. “It seems like this committee doesn’t feel like it,” MEP Sophie sighs in‘t Veld. She thinks committee chairman Ursula von der Leyen is more concerned with the wishes of the Member States than the European citizen. “Europe is not only an economic but also a community of values, you have to stand for that.”
That’s CDA MEP Jeroen Lenaers agree with her. But he doesn‘t think it’s a good signal if European institutions take each other to justice. His party therefore stipulated a two-week period to allow the committee time to take action against Poland to avoid a lawsuit. Both In‘t Veld and Lenaers hope that in those two weeks the European Commission will decide to initiate a procedure to effectively comply with Poland’s conditions attached to the grants.