The EU’s General Affairs Council urged Poland on May 16 to talk with the European Commission about its alleged violations of the rule of law, as Brussels continued to hold back from imposing sanctions.
At the same time, it was notable that the issue was put before the Council of Europe for the first time. Previously, the highest level of the EU had refused to discuss the probe that was launched in January 2016. Brussels appears more confident in taking on the populist PiS government since the French election. The same day, the EU also set a deadline for Poland and Hungary to comply with the bloc's migrant quotas.
The rule of law probe over Polish moves on the judiciary and media was introduced to the council as the EU searches for a middle way. Thus far Warsaw has enjoyed thumbing its nose at Brussels on the issue, apparently safe in the knowledge that the EU has only one stick to reach for, the Article 7 “nuclear option,” which would revoke Poland’s voting rights. Hungary has pledged it would veto any such effort.
However, while Poland was roundly criticised by the bulk of foreign ministers at the General Affairs Council, the mood was not unanimous. Hungary, the Czech Republic and the UK stood up for Poland's right to national sovereignty. The meeting effectively finished with the council throwing the issue back at the European Commission.
“A strong urge [emerged] from a broad majority of member states that we should continue our efforts to have a dialogue with the Polish authorities," European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told reporters in Brussels, according to AFP. "I hope to see a reaction by the Polish government on the basis of today's debate.”
For its part, Poland's tone softened somewhat from the confrontational bent it has followed over the past year or so. Warsaw said it did not think the rule of law was under threat, but how merely the "interpretation" of European values.
Meanwhile, the commission sought to relaunch its effort to get Poland, alongside Hungary, Czechia and Slovakia, to adhere to the EU's migrant quotas. The Visegrad states have long refused to accept the bid to relieve Italy and Greece from influx of immigrants.
“I call on Poland and Hungary who have not relocated a single person to start doing so right now," said EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. However, the demand was not heavily backed. Unless the countries comply by June, an infringement process may be launched, the official threatened. That will cut little ice in Warsaw or Budapest.
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo was quick to show just how little. Poland will not take any migrants, she insisted.
“There is no chance that refugees could be received in Poland at the moment and we certainly will not accept the imposition on Poland or other member states of any kind of mandatory quotas,” the PM said from Warsaw.
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