The hearing on the rule of law in Poland at the General Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday will be limited to an exchange of questions and answers. There will not be any conclusions and voting, according to the Bulgarian presidency which is chairing the meeting. The hearing is a step in the process under article 7(1) of the EU treaty which stipulates that before taking any decision the Council shall hear the member state in question.
The European Commission triggered the process last year. In December 2017, the Council adopted a decision stating that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by Poland of the rule of law and recommended the country to take a number of actions within three months to restore the independence of its courts.
At the outset of the hearing, the Commission will be given the opportunity to update ministers on the situation regarding the rule of law in Poland. Poland will be invited to present its position. Ministers will then have the chance to ask Poland questions.
The purpose of the meeting is to hear Poland. “Each member state will be able to ask two questions but not to make any statements,” Bulgarian ambassador Dimiter Tzantchev said at a press briefing last week.
Asked by The Brussels Times, Tzantchev said that the Commission has received documents from Poland with its responses to EUs concerns but did not confirm that the latest document, received by First Vice-President Frans Timmermans during his visit in Warsaw last week, will be shared at the hearing.
A spokesperson at the Commission’s press briefing last Friday said that the Commission is studying the document carefully but declined to confirm that it had been distributed to the member states ahead of the hearing.
The role of the Bulgarian EU presidency is limited to chairing the hearing and guaranteeing that the procedures are followed. What will happen as a result of the hearing is unclear. Either the Commission or the Council will have to prepare a decision for the European Council summit on 28 – 29 June.
But the rule of law issue in Poland is apparently a hot topic and does not even figure on the agenda of the summit. “I don’t expect that this Council will take any decision on the issue,” ambassador Tzantchev said.
Update: The Council hearing on 26 June on the rule of law in Poland offered a possibility to have “in-depth exchange” with Poland but, as foreseen, no decisions were taken.
At the press conference Tuesday evening, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said that the Polish response was still unsatisfactory but that the Commission preferred to continue the dialogue with Poland to find a solution on the threat against the rule of law in the country.
The Bulgarian minister of foreign affairs, Ekaterina Zaharieva, confirmed that it will be up to next Council under the Austrian presidency to deal with the matter and to take a decision.
The Brussels Times