WARSAW — Step by step, the Polish government has moved against democratic norms: It increased government control over the news media, cracked down on public gatherings and restricted the activities of nongovernmental organizations.
Now the party in power is moving aggressively to take control of the last major independent government institution, the courts, drawing crowds into the streets and possible condemnation by the European Union.
The party is pushing to jam several bills into law; one would force all the nation’s top judges to resign, except those it appointed. Another bill, already approved by Parliament, would ultimately give the government control over who can even be considered for a judgeship.
Poland may be stripped of EU voting rights over judicial independence
The EU is on the brink of taking the nuclear option of stripping Poland of its voting rights in Brussels in response to plans by its rightwing government to “abolish” the independence of the country’s judiciary.
Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president of the European commission, accused Warsaw of seeking to put judges under full political control as he warned that the EU was “very close” to triggering article 7, a never-before-used sanction in the treaties that allows a member state’s voting rights in the council of ministers to be suspended.
Poland’s ruling rightwing Law and Justice party (PiS) has been in almost constant conflict with the European commission since it was elected. In recent weeks the Polish government has proposed a series of reforms that would give ministers power over the appointment of judges and members of the country’s supreme court.
The first step in the EU triggering article 7 is an assessment of whether there has been a breach of fundamental rights, which could be launched as early as next week on the recommendation of the commission. “What we decide next week depends on developments also this week,” Timmermans said, as he called for fresh dialogue with Warsaw.