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Warsaw Braces for Punishment by the EU Commission

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The EU Commission is reportedly ready to act over concerns that Poland is violating EU laws. Speaking from the European Council in Brussels on Dec. 14, new Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that the Polish government expected the European Commission to formally start the procedure to sanction Poland, under Article 7 of the EU Treaty, during the commission’s meeting Dec. 20. A European Commission spokesperson confirmed that the commission had scheduled a discussion on the rule of law in Poland for its weekly meeting, and an unnamed EU official quoted by EU Observer confirmed that the European Commission could start the sanction process if Polish President Andrzej Duda takes the final steps to enforce the controversial judicial reform, Stratfor reports.

On Dec. 8, the Polish parliament approved a reform to the justice system that, according to the European Union, undermines fundamental EU principles. The judicial reform would, among other things, force two fifths of Supreme Court members into retirement. Morawiecki, who was appointed prime minister after a government reshuffle Dec. 8, is a moderate member of the ruling Law and Justice party. But despite his moderate position, Morawiecki announced Dec. 14 that Poland is in need of judicial reform and that his government would continue to push for it. In addition, Morawiecki said that Poland would look for support for its position from other EU nations.

To trigger Article 7 and begin the process to sanction Poland, the European Commission would have to present a “reasoned proposal” and its argument that Poland has violated EU law to member states in the EU Council. With the support of the European Parliament and a four fifths majority in the council, EU representatives could pass a vote just to formally recognize the risk to the rule of law in Poland. However, to impose actual sanctions, such as suspending Poland’s voting rights on EU decisions, EU leaders would have to unanimously approve them in a second vote. This means that each of the remaining members of the European Union has the power to veto the sanctions — and some Visegrad countries, such as Hungary, that support Poland would almost surely do so.

The European Commission is also reportedly concerned with the rule of law in Hungary and wants to begin the same formal procedure with it. But this would be a bold move by the European Union and could deepen divisions between Eastern and Western Europe at a time when the future of Continental unity hangs in the balance.

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