Poland: is rule of law at risk in the country? 

Watch the debate live online  

MEPs debated the situation in Poland, including the rule of law and restrictions to press freedom, with Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło in plenary on 19 January. They were joined by Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the European Commission, and Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders on behalf of the Council. The debate came after the European Commission launched an inquiry into recent reforms of the public media and the Polish Constitutional Court.

The situation in Poland

The new Polish Law and Justice party (PiS) government is implementing reforms, including changes to the status of the Constitutional Court and the public media, that critics say restrict normal democratic checks and balances.

Numerous protests took place in Poland, while there has also been considerable media interest outside the country

On 13 January the European Commision announced it was looking into the situation by launching the first stage of the framework for addressing systemic threats to the rule of law in Poland. The procedure, established by the Lisbon treaty, acts as an early warning tool allowing the Commission to start discussions with a member state if there are concerns about systemic threats to the rule of law escalating. This represents the first time the Commission has resorted to thisprocedure.

The Commission has been entrusted by the national governments with the role of guardian of EU legislation and as such is responsible for ensuring that common rules and values are respected. 

Role of the European Parliament

The European Parliament, as the EU's only directly-elected institution, has the right to debate topical subjects and matters of special importance. Last month MEPs decided that the situation in Poland should be debated during the January plenary session.

Next steps

MEPs will vote on a resolution by political groups during the next plenary session on 1-4 February.