Rule of law in Poland: FIDH denounces the premature closing of Article 7(1) TEU procedure

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On 29 May 2024, the European Commission (EC) announced that it was officially closing a procedure that for six years investigated breaches in the rule of law in Poland. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) denounces the abrupt closing of the procedure, which is provided for under Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and can lead to sanctions against Member States that contravene European Union (EU) values. The EC decision risks undermining the implementation of the reforms needed to restore the rule of law in Poland and does not comply with relevant European Union requirements.

Brussels, 24 June 2024. Despite the unexpected election victory for the democrats last October, Poland is still struggling to align itself with the founding values of the European Union. The coalition led by Donald Tusk, Poland’s prime minister since 13 December, defeated the party in power, the Rights and Justice/Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS), whose illiberal policies had significantly undermined the rule of law in Poland. These policies led the European Commission to trigger the procedure provided under Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) in December 2017 for the risk of serious breaches of the fundamental values of the European Union. Six months after the elections, Poland is still far from having restored the rule of law. FIDH regrets the premature closing of the procedure and calls on European Union institutions to continue monitoring the reforms presented by the new government in February.

Turning a blind eye to the continuing violations in Poland and pretending that all the problems prior to the elections have suddenly been resolved is a mistake. By closing the procedure provided for in Article 7.1 of the Treaty, the EU Commission and the EU Council run the risk of disregarding the obstacles to the effective implementation of the reforms elaborated by the new government. A presidential veto, for example, can be used to block legislative reforms, at least until the next presidential elections in 2025. Other risks that arise are that European Union institutions will disregard the concerns raised by the Venice Commission, particularly with regard to appointments to the Polish judiciary, and the discrediting of the Article 7.1 procedure. The latter is the only mechanism that allows for a comprehensive examination of systematic violations of fundamental European Union values.

"In light of the results of the latest European elections, which confirm the rise in power of the far right in Europe, it is imperative to defend democracy, the rule of law, and human rights at all costs", said Elena Crespi, Head of the FIDH Europe Bureau. She explained that "closing the Article 7 procedure before the problems that triggered it are resolved only amplifies and strengthens the rhetoric of populist and anti-rights movements that threaten the very foundations of the European Union."

PiS and its Hungarian counterpart, Fidezs, and their supporters continually accuse the EU of politicising the debate on the rule of law. The very credibility of this mechanism is at stake and that at a time when Viktor Orban is preparing for Hungary to assume the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

European Union institutions must continue to verify that the reforms promised by Poland are implemented. The new government’s willingness to cooperate is a remarkable opportunity. Close monitoring of the reforms set out in the Action Plan presented by the Polish government in February must continue until full implementation. The reforms must address all the concerns expressed by the European Union institutions and other regional and international human rights bodies and must be conducted in full adherence to the principles of the rule of law. The closing of the Article 7 procedure does not exclude the possibility of the European Union launching other mechanisms in response to violations of human rights and the rule of law, in particular those which have consequences for the European Union budget as documented by the FIDH in its latest report, published in October 2023.


The procedure provided for in Article 7(1) TEU was triggered by the European Commission in December 2017, in response to interference from the Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) in the Polish judicial system. The reforms, introduced by the government in office until the parliamentary elections in October 2023, undermine the separation of powers and the independence of judges, and consequently seriously weaken the rule of law in Poland. The European Commission found that these reforms significantly violated fundamental European standards and threatened the primacy of EU law.

Article 7 of the TEU, applied in this context, makes it possible to determine the existence of a clear risk (7.1) or a serious breach (7.2) of the European Union’s values by a Member State, and can lead to the suspension of certain rights, including the right to vote in the Council of the European Union (7.3).

Human rights organisations, including the FIDH and its member organisations in Poland, such as the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) have extensively documented other violations of the values set out in Article 2 TEU, which were not the subject of European Commission 2017 Reasoned Proposal and the Article 7 procedure against Poland. These violations, in particular the rights of people belonging to minorities and rights such as women’s sexual and reproductive rights are particularly under threat in Poland. Media freedom and the rights of foreigners have also been severely curtailed by the PiS government. As highlighted in the report published by the FIDH in October 2023, European Union funds disbursed to the Polish government contribute to the continuation of serious breaches of the rule of law.

Despite the commitments made by the new government led by Donald Tusk, the practical measures taken to remedy these violations remain insufficient. The Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on legal and constitutional matters, has clearly indicated that to comply fully with European requirements for the rule of law, Poland needs to undertake further essential reforms.

For further information, go to the FIDH’s open letter to EU ministers on the situation in Poland and Hungary, ahead of the General Affairs Council on 25 June 2024.

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