Nothing to be gained from Polish tug of war on rule of law, say MEPs in Warsaw

MEPs in Poland on fact-finding mission on rule of law following ECJ ruling on legality of conditionality mechanism to refuse EU funds on breaches of rule of law

Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar
Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar

Nine MEPs from the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and the Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) have assessed the rule of law situation on the ground in Poland in meetings with national authorities, representatives of the judiciary, civil society and the media.

The MEPs arrived in Warsaw on 21 February and presented their findings today during a press conference.

“We demand the European Commission does not release any further funds until these issues are dealt with,” said MEP Othmar Karas (EPP), referring to a recent Court of Justice ruling recognising the legality of the conditionality mechanism to withhold EU funds for member states that breach rule of law.

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The MEPs that took part were  Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D), Konstantinos Arvanitis (The Left), Lukas Mandl (EPP), Róża Thun und Hohenstein (Renew, PL), and Beata Kempa (ECR), from the LIBE committee and Othmar Karas (EPP), Gabriele Bischoff (S&D), Gerolf Annemans (ID), and Daniel Freund (Greens/EFA) from the AFCO committee.

López Aguilar spoke first, stating how protecting minorities and respecting political pluralism were key elements of the EU charter of fundamental rights, and how the parliament had passed a legally binding framework on the respect of these fundamental rights.

“In Poland it has been noticed time and again that there has been an erosion of the independence of the judiciary, there has been a disciplinary chamber that has been declared not compliant with EU law by the European court of justice.”

López Aguilar described the mission as an interesting three days and felt he and his colleagues had “made meaningful use of this mission.”

Gabriele Bischoff said she was quite impressed based on the interactions her the other MEPs had in their time in Warsaw “we heard about deep attacks on judicial independence, this is a core issue.”

She said migrants, women and the LGBT community were the groups most often affected by failures to uphold fundamental rights. Bischoff said appropriate steps were needed with respetc to the conditionality measure, also known as the Article 7 procedure, that allows funds to be suspended for failures to comply with Union rules, such as the respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights.

Othmar Karas addressed the room: “Ladies and gentlemen, I address directly the Polish citizens because the EP is also your parliament; we are, as EP, also responsible for Polish citizens, and we need to strengthen the European identity.”

Karas referenced the situation between Russia and Ukraine. “We visit Poland in a time of great crisis in the neighborhood. We are watching a battle between democratic values and authoritarianism.”

Karas said that fundamental rights, democracy, and rule of law were the cornerstone of an active European community and the basis for a respectful dialogue with each other. “To hear that in Poland members of the judiciary face intimidation and disciplinary proceedings is not only worrying but unacceptable,” Karas said.

When fielding questions from the press, López Aguilar clarified: “we’re talking about binding law, there is no need for further development in domestic legal systems, it is directly effective, this is binding for all member states; it was never true that the regulation was suspended. The consequences are to be drawn by the Commission. We all want Poland to comply with EU law, and they must fulfill their obligations.”

Karas rejected the notion that what was happening was a misunderstanding or misapprehension of the true nature of Polish law. “The situation is totally clear and everybody mentioned it. We have to reconstruct the rule of law and the independence of the different bodies in Poland. The ECJ was very clear that some decisions taken in Poland were against EU law and Polish law too. There is no misunderstanding.”

López Aguilar added that he could not see what was to be gained from a “tug of war” between the EU and the Polish authorities. “While it is true that all Member states contribute to the financing of the EU budget in cases of non-compliance then funds are frozen, those are the rules of the game.”

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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