The European Commission (EC) [official website] on Wednesday adopted a rule of law opinion [press release] on Poland, warning that changes to the country’s constitutional court pose a risk to the rule of law. Following Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party obtaining power, a new law allowed the government to appoint judges to the highest court and not recognize those who served under the old system. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the PiS called [Guardian report] the EU’s action a “made up procedure.” However, Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the EC said all member states are responsible for complying with treaties passed by the Union and called for the Polish government to respond quickly:
The rule of law is one of the foundations of the European Union. There have been constructive talks which should now be translated into concrete steps to resolve the systemic risk to the rule of law in Poland. The Opinion adopted today presents our assessment of the issues at stake, building on the dialogue which started in January. On this basis we stand ready to continue the dialogue with the Polish authorities.
This marks the first time the EC has criticized a state under its rule of law procedure, established in 2014.
The EU began examining Poland’s decision regarding the Constitutional Court [JURIST reports] in January. In February the Polish government passed a controversial surveillance law [JURIST report] that grants the government [press release, Polish] greater access to digital data and broader use of surveillance for law enforcement. The PiS, a conservative party elected in October, holds an overwhelming majority [BBC report] of positions in the Polish government including the lead in both parliamentary houses and the presidency. In December the leader of the European Parliament [official website] compared PiS’ rise to power in Poland to a coup [BBC report], leading to Parliament calling for an apology. PiS has rejected [DW report] criticisms that its policies are undermining democracy in Poland. However, there is a larger concern in the EU that new Polish law will erode checks and balances on government powers.