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The EU has to warrant the Rule of Law in Poland
Today, the European Parliament has debated the situation in Poland, since last Wednesday the European Commission has activated the Rule of Law Mechanism for the first time since its inception. Under this procedure, the Commission will probe the reforms of the Polish constitutional jurisdiction for their conformity with the Rule of Law. Notwithstanding the soothing language with which the Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło addressed the assembly, Viviane Reding - who was responsible for the creation of the mechanism in 2014 - insists on the necessity to get to the bottom of this investigation into the latest law-reforms.
The former Commissioner for Justice and current Member of the European Parliament emphasized the importance of the probe: "Europe is more than a single market. Europe is a community of values, founded on Democracy and the Rule of Law. When one member state endangers the Rule of Law - as is currently the case in Poland -, the whole of Europe is endangered. These are far from internal matters."
At the same time Reding stressed the fact that the Rule of Law Mechanism was conceived as a continuous dialogue, which should enable all parties to agree on constructive solutions: "Nobody should be pilloried. But the activation of the mechanism should be an unmistakable signal to Poland: Europe cannot and will not stand by the authoritarian lapsing of any of its member states."
It is not the first time Viviane Reding has defended the Rule of Law in the name of the European Union: in 2012 she confronted the Hungarian and Romanian governments on similar grounds. Reding sees in the youngest developments a familiar pattern: "Inroads into the Rule of Law are always spearheaded by an attack on the constitutional court. Next target are the media, first the public and then the private media. That is why it is important to say “stop” from the beginning. If we don't halt them now, it could soon be too late."
Background: The Rule of Law Mechanism was created following the initiative of the then Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding, in the first half of 2014. Repeated problems with certain member states, especially Hungary and Romania, highlighted the importance of an orderly and solution-oriented procedure to deal with violations of the Rule of Law. The mechanism completes the existing infringement procedures, and the procedure under article 7, which, upon a "serious and persistent breach" of the fundamental values of the European enshrined in the European treaties, ultimately results in the suspension of voting rights. It is clear however that the current procedure is an early warning mechanism. It enables the European Commission to enter into a dialogue with the member state under scrutiny to address systemic risks to the Rule of Law and to remedy the situation. If no solution is found, article 7 provides a procedure of last resort. Last Wednesday the European Commission has activated the Rule of Law Mechanism for the first time since its creation. In constant dialogue with Poland, the Commission will probe the reforms of the Polish constitutional jurisdiction for its conformity with the Rule of Law.
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