German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticised Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, backing up the European Commission and increasing the likelihood of unprecedented EU action to punish Warsaw.
This is the latest twist in the long-running dispute over an overhaul of Poland’s judiciary and other steps taken by PiS which Brussels says undermine democracy in the largest ex-communist EU state.
As reported by the Reuters news agency, Poland risks a reprimand under procedures known as Article 7 that have never been used before and would deal a heavy blow to its prestige, deepen its isolation in the bloc and diminish its ability to influence EU policies.
Much is also at stake for the EU. The row has deepened divisions as the EU comes to terms with Brexit and failure to act against a member seen as flouting democracy could raise questions about its determination to defend its core values.
“As much as I wish for good relations with Poland – they are our neighbour and I will always strive for this given the importance of our ties — we can’t simply keep our mouth shut in order to keep the peace,” Merkel said in Berlin.
This goes to the very foundations of our cooperation within the European Union.
According to Reuters, Poland was the poster child of the bloc’s eastward expansion for a decade after joining the EU in 2004.
But relations have deteriorated rapidly since the eurosceptic PiS led by former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, long a political foe of European Council President Donald Tusk, won power in late 2015.
The Commission opened an inquiry into the rule of law in Poland in January 2016 after new legislation put more power in the hands of the Warsaw government, a move seen in Brussels as weakening democratic checks and balances.
Under Article 7, all 27 other EU states declare that PiS is putting democracy at risk. But imposing sanctions would require unanimity among the other member states and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has made clear he would shield Warsaw from the maximum punishment – stripping it of its EU voting rights, reported Reuters.
Commission deputy head Frans Timmermans said last week he would propose opening Article 7 if Poland starts dismissing Supreme Court judges, adding: “We are very close to triggering Article 7.”