DIVIDED EUROPE

Poland Threatened with EU Vote Suspension

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Many Poles protested the move by Warsaw against the judiciary. Picture source: Reuters

A leading German parliamentarian has called for the suspension of Poland’s voting rights in the European Union, as the nationalist government in Warsaw moves to pass legislation that critics say would jeopardize judicial independence.

Gunther Krichbaum, chair of the Bundestag’s European affairs committee, described the political situation in Poland as “dramatic” and said the European Union’s sixth-most populous member state would not even meet the basic requirements to join the bloc.

“It’s not acceptable that a country that no longer fulfills the legal standards for joining the European Union can continue to vote on EU issues,” Mr. Krichbaum, a member of the Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats, told Reuters news agency.

“We cannot preach the rule of law and democracy in the world and not respect our own standards.”

Sigmar Gabriel, Foreign Minister

Mr. Krichbaum’s concern was shared across the political aisle. Axel Schäfer, the deputy head of the center-left Social Democrats in parliament, called for the European Commission to open a case against Poland for violating EU treaties. This can lead to the suspension of voting rights in the European Council, the body where member states decide EU policy.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, also a Social Democrat, said Europeans must defend their democratic values and vowed that Germany would back the commission should it open a case against Poland.

“We cannot preach the rule of law and democracy in the world and not respect our own standards,” Mr. Gabriel told Spiegel Online. “We must all make sure that our own foundation does not crumble. The European Commission has our backing in this.”

Last week, Poland’s governing Law and Justice Party passed a measure that would force the sitting members of the Supreme Court to resign and give parliament and the justice minister greater powers to appoint their replacements. The move sparked mass protests over the weekend in Poland’s major cities.

The heads of the five main parties in the European Parliament, in a joint statement on Monday, said Poland must face consequences should the measure become law. Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, has the power to veto the legislation, though there’s no indication that he plans to do so.

In June, German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed the European Commission’s decision to open a case against Poland for refusing to accept refugees under a deal struck by the EU member states. At the time, Ms. Merkel said the commission was doing its job as the defender of EU treaties.

 

Spencer Kimball is an editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: s.kimball@extern.handelsblatt.com

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