European Commission moves closer to triggering Article 7 against Poland over judicial reform

Series Title
Series Details July 2017
Publication Date 19/07/2017
Content Type


Concerns over respect for rule of law and separation of powers by Poland's government started soon after it was elected into office in October 2015.

A reform aimed at replacing judges from the Constitutional Court with others closer to the governing Law and Justice party triggered the alarms both within the country and across the European Union. The Council of Europe also expressed its concern at the move, approved by the Polish parliament where the government is support by a majority. The Constitutional Court later declared the changes as unconstitutional but such ruling was largely ignored by the government.

In January 2016, the European Commission launched an investigation into Poland's judicial reform and engaged in a dialogue with the country's authorities in the framework of a Rule of Law procedure which could lead up to triggering Article 7 of the Treaties.

The Commission published an Opinion on 1 June 2016 and was met with criticism by the Polish government. Following up on this document, a Recommendation was published on 27 July 2016, reflecting some changes to the judicial reform proposed by the Polish government to address the issues raised but pointing out these had not been enough.

In December 2016, the Commission discussed the state of play of the procedure concerning the Rule of Law in Poland and decided to issue a complementary Rule of Law Recommendation. In February 2017, the country's foreign minister considered the issue to be a 'closed case', without addressing the indications from the Commission.

The government later decided to put forward a further set of four legislative measures reforming the judiciary as a whole - proposals on the National School of Judiciary, on the National Council for the Judiciary, on the Ordinary Courts Organisation and on the Supreme Court.

First Vice-President Frans Timmermans also recalled that the concerns shown by the Commission were shared by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, as well as by the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission and other independent observers.The European Commission's First Vice-President Frans Timmermans announced on 19 July 2017 that a decision to propose the triggering of Article 7 against Poland over its judicial reforms was looming, following a meeting of the College of Commissioners.

Any final decision in this regard was yet to be taken given the ongoing legislative process in Poland, but it was pointed out that the proposals put forward by the country's government on the reform of the judiciary system undermined the separation of powers and 'amplified the threat to rule of law'.

Poland's foreign ministry reassured that the principle of separation of powers had been upheld in the proposed reforms and named the criticism as 'premature'.

Despite Commissioner Timmermans warning the Polish lower house of parliament (Sejm) adopted the Supreme Court bill the following day on the 20 July 2017, albeit it with a few minor amendments.

European Council President (and former Prime Minister of of Poland) Donald Tusk issued a statement on the 20 July 2017 requesting an urgent meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda 'to discuss the political crisis in Poland and its dangerous consequences for our country's standing on the world stage. It is our shared responsibility to prevent a black scenario that could ultimately lead to the marginalisation of Poland in Europe'. However, the request was turned down by President Duda.

There were further protests in Warsaw and other Polish cities on the 20 July 2017. However, Prime Minister Beata Szydło said that the Polish government would 'not give in to pressure' at home and abroad to stop the controversial changes.

Related Links
Poland: Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Statement on the reform of Poland's judiciary system, 19 July 2017;jsessionid=6121110A8D4EA001BDEB55316165E880
Radio Poland, 20.07.17: Polish president turns down meeting with European Council chief: report,Polish-president-turns-down-meeting-with-European-Council-chief-report
Euro|Topics: Debates, July 2017: Can the EU stop Poland's judicial reforms?
European Council: Press Release, 20.07.17: Statement by President Donald Tusk on the situation in Poland
EurActiv, 20.07.17: Polish parliament approves controversial Supreme Court bill
EUObserver, 20.07.17: Polish parliament steps up showdown with EU
Deutsche Welle, 20.07.17: Polish lawmakers pass controversial Supreme Court bill
EurActiv, 20.07.17: Poland: Fierce reactions to Article 7 threat
Spiegel Online International, 21.07.17: From Paragon To Pariah How Kaczynski Is Driving Poland Away from Europe
Politico, 21.07.17: Protests in Warsaw as government moves on courts
Radio Poland, 21.07.17: Warsaw will not give in to pressure over legal changes: PM,Warsaw-will-not-give-in-to-pressure-over-legal-changes-PM
Radio Poland, 19.07.17: Poland calls Brussels warning over court reforms 'premature',Poland-calls-Brussels-warning-over-court-reforms-premature
European Commission: DG Communication: SPEECH/17/2084, 19.07.17: Opening remarks of First Vice-President Frans Timmermans: College readout on grave concerns about the clear risks for independence of the judiciary in Poland
EurActiv, 19.07.17: Timmermans dangles Article 7, makes appeal to the Poles
Deutsche Welle, 19.07.17: EU urges Poland to halt judicial reforms or face sanctions
Euronews, 18.07.17: Sherrif or undertaker, what role for Poland's justice minister?
Human Rights Watch: News, 20.07.17: Poland: Draft Law Threatens Supreme Court
Reuters, 19.07.17: Poland put on notice as EU calls for halt to judicial shake-up
Politico, 19.07.17: Brussels warns Poland over judicial reforms
EUObserver, 19.07.17: Poland's 'July coup' and what it means for the judiciary
Deutsche Welle, 19.07.17: [Opinion] A catastrophe for Poland's democracy
EUObserver, 19.07.17: EU Commission readies Article 7 procedure against Poland
Politico, 19.07.17: European Commission ‘very close’ to triggering Article 7 on Poland
Deutsche Welle, 19.07.17: Polish court reforms: What Jaroslaw Kaczynski actually proposes

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