France and Germany call for another rule of law hearing of Poland
At the General Affairs Council (GAC) on Thursday, France and Germany called for another hearing to be organised after the summer holidays, regarding the rule of law in Poland. Poland's deputy foreign minister Konrad Szymański said that Warsaw is ready to provide any information needed, but it doesn't see the need for another hearing.
The European affairs ministers devoted about half an hour to Poland at Thursday's session of the General Affairs Council (GAC) in Brussels. It wasn't a hearing, but an information point. Apart from deputy chief of the EU Commission Frans Timmermans and Poland's EU minister Konrad Szymański, France and Germany took the floor and gave a joint statement, as well as Sweden and Belgium.
Alluding to Poland and Hungary, German and French ministers said at Thursday's meeting that the rule of law was "at the heart of the European project," diplomatic sources said.
According to Polish Press Agency (PAP), the ministers stressed the importance of the rule of law and Poland's still unsolved problems in that regard. "The concerns that led to the launch of the Article 7 procedure have not been completely and properly addressed yet. We reaffirm our support to the current commission in this regard and we are confident that the next team will show the same commitment," German EU minister Michael Roth said.
The Law and Justice (PiS) party government has expected that its endorsement of the new president of the powerful European Commission - German conservative Ursula von der Leyen - would help wind down the EU's so-called Article 7 inquiry against Poland for flouting democratic rules.
This will not be the case, Frans Timmermans, a Dutchman expected to retain his role as deputy commission chief under Von der Leyen, said on Thursday after EU ministers held yet more discussions over the bloc's concerns about Poland.
"The next Commission, under the presidency of Ursula von der Leyen, I have no doubt, will be as forceful, as concrete and as determined as the present Commission, no doubt whatsoever," Timmermans told a news conference in Brussels.
In presenting her programme for the next five years, Von der Leyen stressed repeatedly that respecting the EU's fundamental democratic values would be at the heart of her policies.
She, as well as the outgoing Commission, proposed a raft of new tools to safeguard democracy around the 28-nation bloc, where eurosceptic and nationalist parties have grown stronger in recent years in a voter backlash over austerity, migration and globalisation.
Finland, now holding the bloc's rotating presidency until the end of 2019, has also spoken in favour of beefing up the bloc's response to those members who challenge democratic rules.
That includes making EU funding for member states in the EU's next joint budget for 2021-27 conditional on upholding the rule of law, a step that could hurt Poland and Hungary as they are among the EU's poorer member who receive generous handouts.
EU pressure has helped win some concessions from Poland's PiS and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, pushing them to renounce some elements of their legal changes that put courts, media, academics and advocacy groups under more state control.
Separately, the Commission this week escalated a legal case against Poland for disciplinary procedures PiS introduced against judges. Warsaw has two months to make amends or it would be sued in the EU's top court.
After the session, Poland's Konrad Szymański told journalists that he had presented to the council the way in which Poland is carrying out the ECJ's ruling regarding the Supreme Court. "This is a very important message to other European capitals, I think to most of them, as it shows Poland's good will to abide by the law over this issue," he said.
Szymański also said that he agreed with the ministers who took the floor that the rule of law is a fundamental element of the EU justice system. Referring to France and Germany's call for another hearing, he reassured that Poland is ready to present its standpoint "in an even more detailed way".
He added that since the contentious issues are being dealt with by the ECJ, the added value of another hearing is very low. "Legal issues and any conflicts of legal nature should not be resolved with political instruments, but legal ones. This is the right way to about in case of legal issues. I hope that this argument will serve as an inspiration for EU member-states," said Polish deputy foreign minister.