Rights groups call for EU action in defence of democracy in Poland
One of the numerous protests throughout Poland over the effective stifling of the country's Constitutional Tribunal (Gdańsk, 23.01.2016)
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Open Society European Policy Institute, FIDH and Reporters without Borders, as well as more than 20 non-governmental organizations from Poland, including the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, have signed an open letter requesting the European Commission to launch the third stage of the rule of law procedure, which would mean the triggering of the measures under Article 7 of Treaty of the European Union.
Under Article 7, the Council of the European Union, acting on a proposal from, for example, the European Commission, may determine, by a four-fifths majority of member states, that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a member state of the fundamental values of the EU, including the rule of law.
Article 7 also provides that the European Council, acting by unanimity on a proposal by the European Commission, may determine the existence of a "serious and persistent" breach by a member state of fundamental values of the EU. Only after this step is completed, the Member States, acting by a qualified majority, may decide to suspend a given state’s rights deriving from the treaties governing the functioning of the EU.
Systemic threat to rule of law
In December 2016, the European Commission adopted a second, complementary recommendation regarding the rule of law in Poland. According to the European Commission, there is still a systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland, which should be addressed as a matter of urgency (to find out more about the case, use this link).
Before the end of February, Poland should notify the European Commission of measures taken in order to comply with the Commission’s recommendations. So far, no such recommendations have followed.
The recommendations called for the nomination of the three lawfully appointed judges of the Constitutional Tribunal elected in October 2015 and ensuring that a new president of the Tribunal is not appointed until the Constitutional Tribunal reviews the new laws on its organization enacted in December 2016.
Stand with civil society
The open letter’s signatories believe that "a recommendation from the Commission to activate Article 7 TEU is at this stage the only way to continue to hold Poland to account for its failure to respect its obligations under the Treaties." The NGOs also emphasize that it "would send a strong signal to other Member States" that no one can undermine the founding values of the European Union without a strong response from the EU.
The signing organizations also note that using the Article 7 procedure will send “a strong signal to civil society in Poland that the Commission stands by its side in its fight for a society in which democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the other values protected under Article 2 TEU are upheld."
The open letter to the European Commission may be read here.