EU to launch probe into new Polish laws

19 January 2016

The European Commission has announced that it will start an unprecedented investigation into whether controversial laws pushed through by Poland's new Law and Justice Government violate EU standards.

The European Commission met last week in order to decide how best to respond to controversial new laws in Poland that have given the Polish government more control over the media, purged public broadcasting staff, and packed the supreme court with loyalists.

Recent changes to Poland’s constitutional court include removing vital checks and balances on executive power and a new law allowing the government to appoint and dismiss executives in charge of TV and radio broadcasters, undermining human rights and media freedom. Another new law raising serious concern is one that gives the police a much broader right to conduct surveillance without court control. The draft of this law has been criticized by many, including Polish Ombudsman.

Speaking after the meeting of the EU executive on Wednesday, European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said, "today we have decided that the Commission will carry out a preliminary assessment on this matter under the rule of law framework."

Under Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, a state's voting rights in the EU Council can be suspended if that state is found to be in "serious and persistent breach" of Europe’s fundamental values.

In response to the Commission’s announcement, Andrzej Dominiczak, journalist, president of the Society of Humanities, and member of the Wake up Europe’s European Citizens’ Committee welcomed the news but questioned why the European Commission has not done the same in the case of Hungary, given that Hungary provided a model for the current Polish government.

He said, “Jarosław Kaczyński has admired Viktor Orban and his authoritarianism for a number of years now; and whilst both men demonstrate explicit contempt for the values and norms of liberal democracy in equal measure, the EU Commission has seen fit to only take energetic steps against only Poland. It has turned a blind eye to a Hungarian political paragon, who’s been involved in violating European values for five years now.”