The European Union Wednesday formally warned Poland’s rightwing government that it must roll back its overhaul of the top Polish court, which critics warn endangers its independence.
“We have decided to send a rule-of-law opinion to the Polish authorities,” European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans told a press conference.
“Despite our best efforts we have not been able to find a solution to the main issues that concern us,” Timmermans said following five months of talks with the Polish government.
But he added: “I still see us in a process of dialogue, a constructive dialogue.”
He pointed to the overhaul of the constitutional court as a threat to the rule of law.
The opinion, which the commission defines as a “warning” to a member state, is an unprecedented step.
But it is just one aspect of a long and drawn-out procedure which could eventually see Warsaw have its voting rights suspended in the European council of ministers, the EU’s most important decision-making body.
However, Poland’s regional ally Hungary is likely to torpedo any possible sanctions, which would require the unanimous approval of all 28 EU members.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party plunged the country into a political crisis in December, just weeks after winning power, when it pushed through legislation that has paralyzed the constitutional court by modifying its decision-making rules.
In January, the Commission launched an unheard-of probe to see if the changes violated EU democracy rules and merited punitive measures.
Poland now has two weeks to respond to the warning. If it fails to satisfy EU concerns, the Commission could recommend that Warsaw solve the problems identified within a fixed time limit.