Poland could be put in the dock by the EU within weeks over its failure to protect the independence of the country’s judiciary if its rightwing government fails to convince Brussels that it has backtracked on its most controversial legal changes.
A meeting of ministers from the 28 member states on Monday was told by Frans Timmermans, the vice-president of the European commission, that the Polish government’s policies remained a threat to the rule of law.
The commission is demanding that Poland remove the discretionary power of its president, Andrzej Duda, to prolong the mandate of supreme court judges, and abandon the extraordinary appeal procedure, which includes a power to reopen final judgments made years earlier.
Despite signs of an improvement in relations between Brussels and Warsaw in recent months, Timmermans told reporters that he was not willing for the dialogue between the commission and Warsaw to be strung out.
A meeting of the same EU ministers next month, in the general affairs council, could establish a hearing at which the commission lays down its case against Poland, and Warsaw would seek to defend itself, Timmermans said.
That could in time lead to a vote by member states on potential “preventative measures” under the EU’s unused punishment clause, known as article 7, although the commission would not yet be confident of the support of the qualified majority of member states required.
Timmermans, a former Dutch foreign minister, said: “Some progress has been made over the last couple of weeks, but not enough to say that the systemic threat to the rule of law would be removed, so we still need to continue the dialogue.