The European Union has launched disciplinary proceedings against Poland, accusing the county of breaching the EU’s “core values” over a series of judicial reforms passed by the Polish parliament.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, triggered Article 7, also dubbed as the “Nuclear Option.” The process could lead to economic sanctions and suspension of the country’s voting rights within the EU’s decision making bodies.

This is the first time in the EU’s 24 year history that such an extreme step has been taken against a member state. The announcement came exactly a week after German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her support for punitive measures against its eastern European neighbor. “If it comes to a decision, we will back them [the EU],” Merkel’s spokesperson said last Wednesday.

“If a unanimous decision is reached [by the EU member states], [Poland] will face punitive sanctions,” reported Business Insider‘s German edition. “The German government has aligned itself with the decision the European Commission.”

“We are doing this for Poland, for Polish citizens,” EU Vice-President Frans Timmermans said while announcing European Commission’s decision to trigger the Article 7 of the EU Treaties, a series of multilateral pacts ratified between 1951 and 2007. “Judicial reforms in Poland mean that the country’s judiciary is now under the political control of the ruling majority. In the absence of judicial independence, serious questions are raised about the effective application of EU law,” Timmermans added.

Poland is showing no signs of backing down.

Just hours after Brussels triggered Article 7, Polish President Andrzej Duda symbolically defied the EU by signing two judicial reforms bills passed earlier by the country’s parliament.

President Duda defended the reforms, saying the measures seek to end “communism inside the Polish judiciary.” He justified the need for parliamentary oversight against EU-backed judicial activism. “I don’t see a problem with parliament having more influence over who becomes a judge.”

Hungary came out in support of Poland. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán declared his government’s intention to veto any sanctions tabled against the country at the European Commission.

“The decision seriously damages Poland’s sovereignty,” Hungary’s Deputy Prime minister Semjén said. “It is unacceptable that Brussels is putting pressure on sovereign member states and arbitrarily punishing democratically elected governments.”

German newspaper Die Welt reported the launch of the proceedings:

The European Commission has called upon its member states to start an unprecedented legal proceedings against Poland due to the controversial judicial reforms, Brussels announced on Wednesday.

These are the first proceedings in the EU entire history involving the Article 7 of the European Treaties. The reason for the measure are the judicial reforms of the ruling nationalist conservative, the PiS, that undermine the rule of law and the separation of powers.

Warsaw passed 13 laws in total that pose a “serious threat to the independent judiciary”, EU Vice-President Frans Timmermans said on Wednesday. In addition to that [Brussels] is suing Poland in an ongoing infringement proceedings over the issue of judicial reforms in the [EU-run] European court of Justice.

We are doing it with a heavy heart, but there are no other options, Timmermans said. As the  “custodians of the treaties”, Commission is obliged to act whenever the rule of law in under threat in a member state. “It is not about Poland, it’s about the whole of the European Union.” [Translation by the author]

“Brussels Nuclear Option shows its helplessness,” commented the Die Welt in an editorial piece. “For legal processing envisaged under the Article 7 of the European Treaties against Warsaw, there has to be unanimity among the head of governments of Europe.” And “that’s not going to happen” because Hungary is going to veto any such move, the newspaper added.

The current debate may be focused on the issue of judicial reforms, but the EU also wants to send a message to other European detractorss as well. Last week, Brussels began legal proceedings against Poland, Hungary, and Czech Republic for blocking the EU migrant relocation plans to settle some 160,000 migrants among its member states.

As German newspaper Die Welt noted, the EU’s open threats could be a sign in its weakening position. Germany’s Chancellor Merkel still hasn’t been able to form a coalition government. If she fails to reconcile political differences with her main rival left-wing SPD party, Germany will head to new elections early next year. According to the latest poll data, Germany’s anti-EU AfD party will the biggest winner in that scenario.

Parliamentary elections in Austria just installed a right-wing coalition in power, further strengthening the position of eastern European countries opposed to the EU’s Migrant Policy and encroachment of their national sovereignty.

It is highly unlikely that the EU will push Poland, the strongest Eastern European member state, over the edge less than six months after the Brexit debacle. Regardless of what the EU officials or the mainstream media say, Poland is in a much stronger position than the eurocrats sitting in Brussels. Poland can survive as a nation state outside the EU, but Brussels can’t afford to lose another member state.

[Cover image via Youtube]


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