Poland fears ‘arbitrary restrictions’ of rights by Brussels: foreign minister

Poland’s foreign minister on Wednesday said his country opposed any move to make payouts of EU funds conditional on an assessment that member states are upholding the rule of law.

“The rule of law is something we value, but we are afraid that unclear criteria may lead to arbitrary restrictions of the rights of member states,” Jacek Czaputowicz told the Polish parliament in a major speech setting out his country’s foreign policy priorities.

Warsaw is locked in a row with Brussels over sweeping changes to the judiciary in Poland, which is a major recipient of European Union funds.

Critics have accused Poland’s ruling conservatives of aiming to stack courts with their own candidates and to dismantle the rule of law, but the governing Law and Justice party has said the reforms are vital to make courts more efficient and more transparent.

Article 7

Europe’s Justice Commissioner said in January that Brussels was working on a way of making payouts of all EU funds conditional on member states having an efficient judicial system and upholding the rule of law.

The European Commission in December took the unprecedented step of triggering Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland, stepping up pressure on Warsaw over the controversial changes to the judicial system.

The move means that the EU’s executive wants the bloc’s member states to declare that the rule of law in Poland is under threat.

But penalties on Warsaw would have to be backed unanimously by EU member states, an improbable scenario after some member countries, including Hungary, have said they would not support sanctions.

‘We defend our right to reform judiciary’

Czaputowicz told parliament on Wednesday that he regretted the commission’s decision to launch the Article 7 procedure against Poland.

“We defend our right to reform the judiciary in line with the expectations of Poles, as expressed in the last elections” in late 2015, in which the conservative Law and Justice party won by a landslide, Czaputowicz said.

He insisted the sweeping changes to Polish courts introduced by Law and Justice “do not violate the principles of a democratic state” governed by the rule of law but, on the contrary, “strengthen these principles.”

Despite tensions with Brussels, Czaputowicz said that Poland’s membership of the European Union bolstered the country’s position on the international arena and brought a swathe of economic, political and social benefits.

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