#RuleOfLaw concerns in #Poland: How the Article 7 procedure would work

| February 28, 2018

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MEPs vote on 1 March on a proposal to establish a risk of a breach of EU values proceedings for Poland. Find out how the proceedings would work under Article 7 of the Treaty on EU.

Commission concerns

The  European Commission is concerned about the independence of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal and courts following several changes in national legislation. It has been monitoring developments since November 2015 and talking with the Polish authorities for more than two years now. The Commission has issued four recommendations under the so-called Rule of Law Framework, which seeks to prevent the escalation of threats, but has not yet been satisfied with the response of the Polish government.

Rule of law is a key principle in democratic states that ensures the independence of the judiciary system. Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union mentions respect for the rule of law as one of the values the EU is founded on. A breach of EU values justifies a reaction at EU level and this is what the procedure under Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union aims to achieve.

The Article 7 procedure

The Article 7 procedure for protecting EU values was introduced by the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997 and has never been used so far. It includes two mechanisms: preventive measures, if there is a clear risk of a breach of EU values; and sanctions, if such a breach has already occurred. Possible sanctions against the EU country concerned are not clearly defined in the EU treaties, but might include voting rights in the Council and the European Council.

For both mechanisms, the final decision needs to be taken by representatives of member states in the Council, but the thresholds to reach a decision are different. For the preventive mechanism, a decision in the Council requires a majority of four fifths of member states, whereas a determination on the existence of a breach requires unanimity among EU heads of state and government. The EU country concerned does not take part in either vote.

In the case of Poland, the Commission is resorting to the preventive mechanism.

Parliament’s role

The Parliament needs to give its consent before the Council can determine that there is a clear risk of a breach of EU values. Similarly, Parliament’s consent would be required if the heads of state were asked to determine that a breach of EU values had occurred.

MEPs already stated in a resolution adopted in November 2017 that the situation in Poland represents a clear risk of a serious breach of the European values, including the rule of law. In December 2017, the Commission decided to start the procedure under Article 7. MEPs will now vote on a resolution expressing their opinion on the Commission’s move.

Parliament has also voiced concerns about the rule of law in Hungary and has called for triggering Article 7 against Budapest as well. The civil liberties committee is preparing a formal resolution for a plenary vote. Under Article 7, Parliament can also initiate the preventive mechanism by calling on the Council to determine that there is a risk of a breach of EU values.

Follow the plenary debate live on Wednesday afternoon (28 February).


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