Poland and the European Commission, Part II: Hearing the Siren Song of the Rule of Law

As Poland has careened away from the rule of law, the European Commission has struggled to work out its response. Given Europe’s multiple crises at the moment, the internal affairs of a rogue government or two may seem less critical to Europe’s well being than crises that affect multiple states at the same time, like the refugee crisis, the Euro-crisis or the fallout from Brexit. But the proliferation of governments inside the EU that no longer share basic European values undermines the reason for existence of the EU in the first place.

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Living under the unconstitutional capture and hoping for the constitutional recapture

After the unconstitutional capture of the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland, ordinary courts will have to step in to provide constitutional review. Polish judges are faced with the most fundamental challenge since 1989. Are they ready to be constitutional judges in times of constitutional emergency?

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Poland and the European Commission, Part I: A Dialogue of the Deaf?

On 21 December 2016, the European Commission adopted an additional Recommendation regarding the rule of law in Poland. Rather than starting the Article 7 sanctioning process, the Commission merely reiterated its old demands, added some new concerns and again held out the threat of Article 7 while apparently moving no closer to actually starting a sanctioning process. It is not that the Commission was unaware of what was happening in Poland. In December, the Commission stood by and watched the Polish government capture the Constitutional Tribunal. The new Recommendation indicates that the Commission simply chose not to act to head off the final stages of the Tribunal’s demise.

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Constitutional Capture in Poland 2016 and Beyond: What is Next?

2016 will go down in history as fundamental in the institutional history of Polish Constitutionalism. It began with an unprecedented attack on the Constitutional Tribunal, rule of law, checks and balances and judicial independence. It ends with full-blown constitutional crisis. The dramatic events in the Sejm and on the streets only corroborate that Poland is on the slippery slope towards autocracy.

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Statement by the former presidents of the Constitutional Tribunal: Marek Safjan, Jerzy Stępień, Bohdan Zdziennicki and Andrzej Zoll

Four former presidents of the beleaguered Polish Constitutional Tribunal have issued a powerful statement calling on the legal community and the President to defend the Court and, indeed, the constitutional order of the Republic.

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The EU and Poland: Giving up on the Rule of Law?

With an off-hand remark in a Belgian newspaper, President Juncker has called off the EU Commission’s effort to pressure Poland into following the rule of law. If he went through with this, he would not only pull the rug from under his own First Vice President Timmermans and spare the national governments the necessity to live up to their responsibilities. The Commission President deciding that the slide of a member state into authoritarianism is not his business, with a Trump Presidency in the US coming, forgoes the European Union’s claim to be capable of fulfilling its leadership role in the world.

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Systemic Threat to the Rule of Law in Poland: What should the Commission do next?

Considering the overwhelming evidence of a deliberate governmental strategy of systematically undermining all checks and balances in Poland as well the uncooperative behaviour of Polish authorities, the Commission has been left with no other choice but to trigger the Article 7 mechanism. Even if there is no realistic chance of seeing the Council adopting sanctions against Poland, this step would finally oblige national governments, meeting in the Council, to face up to their own responsibilities.

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