EC expected to pursue rule of law procedure against Poland

The EC is to announce on Wednesday that it will move to the second stage of considering a rule of law violation by Poland with regard to the disciplinary procedures in the Polish judicial system.

According to commercial channel TVN24 the Commission is to follow up on the decision it took in April to challenge Poland over its new disciplinary system for judges. The EC argued that the new disciplinary system undermines the independence and impartiality of judges because the new Supreme Court Disciplinary Chamber has its membership determined by the National Judicial Council (KRS) which is now elected by Parliament.

Reacting to the expected announcement jacek Sasin, Deputy PM, said that it was surprising that the outgoing EC was pursuing this case. A case that only the new EC which comes into office on 1 November would be able to finish.

Mr Sasin, interviewed by TVN24, said he hoped that talks between Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki and the EC President elect Ursula von der Leyen would ensure that “the temperature around this dispute will be reduced”. However, the new EC could move to the next stage of proceedings in the autumn by filing a case with the ECJ in Luxembourg if the answers Poland gives at the second stage of proceedings are deemed unsatisfactory.

Ursula von der Leyen was elected President of the EC on Tuesday and will begin her five year term in office on 1 November. Polish MEPs from the ruling as well as opposition parties supported her nomination.

Comment

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) and its European grouping (European Conservative Reformers- ECR) decided on Tuesday night to support Ursula von der Leyen to become President of the EC. The votes it provided for the German nominee proved crucial.

However, we are in the dark as to what this may mean for Poland. All we know is that the day before the vote on Ms von der Leyen the PiS candidate for chairing the EP’s Employment Committee, the former polish PM Beata Szydło was, for the second time, rejected in a vote inside the committee. We also know that the PiS nominee for the position of VP in the EP, Prof. Zdzisław Krasnodębski, suffered a heavy defeat in the elections of VPs that took place in Strasbourg earlier this month. Now we learn that the EC may continue with its rolling rule of law dispute with the Polish government.

Questions are now bound to be asked what Poland is going to gain from having got Ursula von der Leyen elected? A guarantee of a good portfolio (perhaps energy) for its European Commissioner? Assurances about the size and shape of the EU budget? Promises that the EC will look again at Nord Stream 2 and tread lightly on tightening its policies on climate change?

One thing looks certain. There are no guarantees given that the rule of law infringement cases will be dropped by the EC.

PM Morawiecki argues that he and Poland are playing a long game. He acknowledges that the German EC President elect is a compromise. Sources from Poland’s MFA argue that Ms von der Leyen is not going to agree with President Macron’s wish to sideline countries which are not in the Euro zone and that she is likely to be staunchly pro-NATO and opposed to any relaxing of sanctions on Russia or ‘fantasies’ about building a European army.

Poland this time round, unlike 2014, did not press for one of the top jobs in the EU. This is because experience of five years ago shows that putting too much faith in obtaining top jobs in the EU does not translate into additional influence for the given country. Donald Tusk’s nomination as President of the European Council has not brought about any changes in key areas such as an EU common energy policy or more integration on the single market.

Poland may now wish to play a much longer and more difficult game of attempting to have more influence over actual EU policies. But politics is about the short term too, and PM Morawiecki should want to have something to show for Poland’s support for the new President of the EC.

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