E.U. Accuses Poland of Not Honoring Rule of Law

By Bilefsky, Dan | International New York Times, June 3, 2016 | Go to article overview

E.U. Accuses Poland of Not Honoring Rule of Law


Bilefsky, Dan, International New York Times


The opinion by the bloc's executive arm reflected increasing alarm in the West about Warsaw's commitment to democracy.

The European Union's executive branch has chastised Poland after determining that it had failed to uphold the rule of law, a rare intervention that reflected increasing alarm in the West about the government's commitment to democratic norms.

The adoption of the formal opinion by the executive branch, the European Commission, which could ultimately lead to sanctions, came after the commission opened an investigation in January into whether the right-wing government was subverting European Union values by threatening an independent judiciary.

After days of negotiations intended to find a compromise that could save Poland and the governing Law and Justice party from an embarrassing public rebuke, Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the commission, said the bloc had decided to adopt a formal opinion on Wednesday.

The opinion, the details of which were not disseminated, found that the government of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo had violated the principle of rule of law. It reflected the bloc's concerns that Poland had, among other things, undermined the ability of the Polish constitutional court to rule on new legislation and appointed party loyalists to the judiciary, according to European Union officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"Despite our best efforts, until now we have not been able to find solutions to the main issues at stake," Mr. Timmermans said at a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday. "Let me be clear that the commission does not intend and does not wish to involve itself in a political debate in Poland. Political issues in Poland are the business of politicians in Poland. Our business is preserving the rule of law."

The country's justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, was quoted by Radio Poland as saying that he was "surprised and saddened" by the commission's opinion. At a news conference in Warsaw, he said that the government had been flexible, and he accused the opposition and the constitutional court of failing to compromise.

The European Commission asked Poland to respond to the opinion "within a reasonable time."

A failure to address the commission's concerns could eventually result in sanctions and the loss of voting rights in the European Union's council of ministers.

Such an outcome is generally seen as unlikely, however, in part because Hungary, under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has vowed to veto any attempt to impose sanctions on Poland. …

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