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

A little more than a week ago, Jean-Claude Juncker gave up on the rule of law.

Speaking in an interview with Belgian newspaper Le Soir (english summary here), the European Commission President suggested that there was nothing the European Union could do to halt the slide toward authoritarianism in EU Member States such as Hungary and more recently, Poland:

‘Things have slipped in a number of countries and we do not know where they would take us. In the European Treaties, Article 7 provides possible sanctions against countries which would go awry with respect to the EU’s universal principles. We say that it is a ‘nuclear option’. But there are already some Member States which are saying that they will refuse to use them. This a priori refusal cancels de facto Article 7. I note this with sadness and disappointment. I hope that the peoples will not give free rein to those who will in the end harm them.’

Juncker’s remarks came just as all eyes were on the European Commission, after Poland had angrily rejected the Commission’s insistence that the Polish government back down from its attacks on the Constitutional Court and follow its decisions (for our previous posts and links to key documents, see here and here). We are now waiting for the Commission’s assessment of the (unpublished) response it received from the Polish government following the expiry of the deadline (i.e. 27 October 2016) to implement the Commission’s Rule of Law Recommendation of 27 July 2016. It is worth noting that the 2014 Commission Communication on the Rule of Law Framework does not compel the Commission to act within a particular timeframe at this stage. Instead, it provides that the Commission ought to ‘assess the possibility of activating one of the mechanisms set out in Article 7 TEU’ in the situation where ‘there is no satisfactory follow-up to the recommendation by the Member State concerned within the time limit set’ ...

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