On Wednesday, an EP delegation ended its three-day visit to Poland, where MEPs met politicians, judges, civil society and journalists, to assess the rule of law situation.
MEPs collected first-hand information about Parliament’s long-standing concerns, with a particular focus on the independence of the judiciary, the state of fundamental rights, and media freedom. The Polish Constitutional Court’s decision proclaiming that national law takes primacy over the EU Treaties was also discussed with several interlocutors.
Nine MEPs took part in the delegation: Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES), Konstantinos Arvanitis (The Left, EL), Lukas Mandl (EPP, AT), Róża Thun und Hohenstein (Renew, PL), and Beata Kempa (ECR, PL), from the Civil Liberties Committee; and Othmar Karas (EPP, AT), Gabriele Bischoff (S&D, DE), Gerolf Annemans (ID, BE), and Daniel Freund (Greens/EFA, DE), from the Committee on Constitutional Affairs.
They met parliamentarians, members of the judiciary (the latter included several judges who have been disciplined under legislation contested by the EU Court of Justice), and victims of illegal surveillance using the Pegasus software. MEPs also spoke with representatives of the media and NGOs focussing on justice, the rule of law, women, and LGBTI and migrants’ rights. Finally, they met with representatives of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights.
Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES), Chair of the Civil Liberties Committee, stressed that “the situation of rule of law in Poland has further deteriorated since our last visit in 2018. Our objective is to support the clear majority of the Polish population who strongly believe in European values. We have heard about the personal experiences of different citizens, judges, scholars and activists. The Polish authorities must understand that only by respecting and applying all criteria set out by the European courts on the independence of the judiciary will the situation improve. The Commission cannot tolerate having judges being harassed, persecuted and sanctioned by disciplinary measures in a European member state for simply applying EU law. Moreover, we have serious concerns about the lack of transparency regarding the situation at the border with Belarus, where politicians, journalists and NGOs are not allowed access while human lives are at stake.”
“We visit Poland at a time of grave crisis in its immediate neighbourhood, facing a contest between democracy and authoritarianism. This is why it is more important than ever to be crystal clear about our commitment to our founding values: democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Adherence to these values is not an abstract matter. It requires the full application of the judgements of the EU Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights by the Polish authorities, without delay. We request that the Commission makes the complete application, one hundred percent, of these judgements a precondition for the release of funding from the EU Recovery Fund”, said Othmar Karas (EPP, AT), EP first Vice-President.
Gabriele Bischoff (S&D, DE), first Vice-President of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, added: “The situation of the rule of law in Poland is not only a national issue, but a European question. The primacy of EU law is at the foundation of the European project and it is enshrined in the Polish constitution. We have heard with deep concern testimonies about attacks on judicial independence. The European values of equality and non-discrimination are not respected, especially towards migrants, women and the LGBTI+ community. We also discussed the recent revelations on Pegasus spying and its consequences for media freedom and fair elections. This information will be important as we get ready to set up an EP inquiry committee on the use of this spyware in the EU. We also call on the Council to move beyond just holding hearings on the Article 7 procedure and take the appropriate next steps.”
You can watch the press conference at the end of the three-day visit on Parliament’s Multimedia Centre.
In 2017, the Commission initiated a procedure under Article 7 to address a possible risk of breach of EU values in Poland. Parliament has since repeatedly asked the Council to act, and in 2020 warned about further backsliding. The situation has deteriorated further since, including through the criminalisation of sexual education and a de facto ban on abortion.
MEPs taking part in the delegation will now draft a report summarising their findings, which will be discussed publicly in the two committees.