EU begins process that could see Poland stripped of voting rights

European commission tells other member states that Polish reforms put fundamental democratic values at risk. The EU has triggered a process that could ultimately see Poland stripped of voting rights in Brussels in an unprecedented step designed to force the country’s rightwing government to drop reforms the bloc regards as a threat to the country’s democracy.

The country’s fellow 27 member states have been advised by the European commission that the legislative programme of Poland’s government is putting at risk fundamental values expected of a democratic state by allowing political interference in its courts.

“Within a period of two years a significant number of laws have been adopted – 13 in total – which put in serious risk the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers”, the vice president of the commission, Frans Timmermans, told reporters in Brussels.

“Judicial reforms in Poland mean that the country’s judiciary is now under the political control of the ruling majority. In the absence of judicial independence, serious questions are raised about the effective application of EU law.”

The issuing of a formal warning to Poland has been recommended to the member states under the first clause of the, until now, unused article 7 procedure. “It is with a heavy heart that we have decided to initiate Article 7.1”, Timmermans said. “But the facts leave us with no choice”.

At least 22 of the 28 member states will now need to vote in favour of the commission’s proposal for a formal warning, but Brussels is confident it has the numbers.

The most serious sanction possible under article 7 would be to suspend the member state of its voting rights in EU institutions and suspend EU financial transfers, but that would require unanimity among the member states in a subsequent vote. Hungary’s rightwing government has insisted it would never support such a move.

Timmermans said that although there has been no dialogue with the Polish government this year on the issue, the EU was open to talks out of the current stand off.

A new prime minister took office only this month, and Warsaw was told that the commission could rescind its decision if remedies were enacted within the next three months.

Timmermans also insisted that at this stage he was not deploying the “nuclear option” and it would be up to Poland to respond to the developments.

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