Poland’s President Andrzej Duda may have enjoyed a warm welcome at the White House — offering to name a military base after Trump certainly couldn’t have hurt. But back home he’s facing a decidedly chilly response from the European Union. The EU is considering to take away Poland’s voting rights.
"I don't have much good news for you," Frans Timmermans, a deputy head of the EU's executive European Commission, said Tuesday, after the commission's second hearing on the state of law in Poland. "Between the first and the second hearing, the Commission's concerns have increased. The situation in Poland has not improved."
The source of the stand-off: Duda's controversial decision last year to lower the retirement age for judges from 70 to 65, a move the EU believes is designed to push aside unhelpful critics of his ruling Law and Justice Party.
The European Commission accuses his government — which took power in 2015 — of undermining the fundamental values of the EU, arguing that aspects of its broad-ranging reform agenda might be incompatible with EU Law.
Polish Supreme Court President Malgorzata Gersdorf was one of the first to be forced to step down when Duda's new retirement law came into effect in July. But she's refused to acquiesce to the pressure and has continued showing up to work. She also referred the issue to Europe’s highest court, the European Court of Justice. Gersdorf told VICE News that Duda's changes are dangerous because it effectively gives the government yet more power over Supreme court judges. “Now it’s the minister and he overlooks disciplinary by judges he appointed himself,” she said. Last year, The European Commission triggered a punishment clause called Article 7 against Poland — citing the government's treatment of its judiciary and moves to suppress an independent press. Article 7 allows the EU to withdraw the voting rights of a country found to have threatened the rule of law. If the EU were to strip Poland of its rights, it would be the first country in the bloc ever given such a punishment.
But 10 months on, EU lawmakers are still weighing the full introduction of Article 7 on Poland. And Lukasz Piebiak, the country's Deputy Minister of Justice, doesn't expect it to come anytime soon.
“According to Article 7 there can be a decision to suspend voting rights but the decision is made by the European Council,” Piebiak told VICE News. “Those are represented by the sovereign states. Of course Hungary [will defend Poland] but I know that we have more allies.”
This segment originally aired Sept. 20, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.