Poland: European Commission’s decision to activate Article 7 historic step towards accountability for rights violations

20/12/2017
Press release

The European Commission’s decision today to trigger Article 7.1 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) in response to growing concerns regarding respect by Poland for the EU’s founding principles comes as a very welcome step after two years of unfruitful dialogue with the government over reforms which seriously threaten the rule of law in the country.

“We fully support the Commission’s decision to launch Article 7.1 TEU in response to a serious deterioration of democratic standards, the rule of law and human rights in Poland under the Law and Justice (PiS)’s government. This move – that FIDH had long been calling for – sends a clear signal to the Polish authorities, and other member states, that such attacks against the EU’s founding principles will not remain unanswered” said Dan Van Raemdonck, FIDH Secretary-General “It is now for EU governments to take responsibility to halt this backsliding and ensure that Poland complies with its obligations under the Treaties”.

Beyond attacks against the judiciary, which undermine the separation of powers and people’s access to an independent justice, other democratic checks and balances are under threat and human rights are violated across the board. This includes freedom of expression and assembly, media freedom, the right to asylum and women’s sexual and reproductive rights. The space for civil society has been dramatically shrinking.

“It is crucial that all these violations of the EU’s founding principles protected under Article 2 TEU are addressed in the context of the Article 7 procedure” concluded Van Raemdonck.

Background

It is the first time in European Union history that the European Commission triggers the procedure laid down in Article 7.1 TEU, on account of a clear risk of a serious breach by a member state of the values enshrined in Article 2 TEU, including democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. The procedure can be activated on a proposal by one third of the member states, the European Commission or the European Parliament. After submission by the Commission of a reasoned proposal to the Council, it will be for EU governments to decide whether to activate the procedure, with a four fifth majority.

The procedure can eventually (Article 7.2) lead to the suspension of Poland’s voting rights in the Council of the EU, if it is determined that there is a serious and persistent breach by the member state concerned of the values referred to in Article 2.

The Commission’s decision to trigger Article 7.1 TEU follows a series of recommendations by the European Commission under the EU Framework to strengthen the rule of law (Rule of Law Framework) and resolutions adopted by the European Parliament. In the last one, adopted on 15 November 2017, the Parliament decided to work towards a reasoned proposal to the Council to activate Article 7.1.

FIDH has been consistently denouncing rule of law and human rights violations in Poland and advocating for a strong reaction by the EU. This included a call to activate Article 7.1 TEU in the face of the Polish government’s continued attempts to undermine the rule of law and human rights and repeated failures to comply with the European Commission’s recommendations under the Rule of Law Framework.

Our action has complemented Polish civil society’s active engagement in defending the rule of law and human rights in the country and speaking out against violations over the past two years.

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