On behalf of President Juncker and my colleagues in the Commission I want to set out to you the reasons why the Commission has decided to assess the recent developments in Poland, and how we hope to move forward in a constructive and facts-based dialogue with Poland to prevent the emergence of a systemic threat to the Rule of Law.
The main reason for beginning this assessment under the 2014 Rule of Law framework is the situation concerning the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, and in particular the dispute about the nomination of a number of judges of the Tribunal.
In principle, this should be an issue for the Constitutional Tribunal itself to resolve. However, as things stand, the other institutions of the Polish State have not complied with the judgments rendered by the Constitutional Tribunal on the matter. This has given rise to uncertainty regarding the functioning of the Constitutional Tribunal.
Furthermore, the Polish Parliament has decided to shorten the mandates of the President and Vice-President of the Tribunal. On 28 December last year, an amendment to the law on the Constitutional Tribunal entered into force which appears to render the functioning the Constitutional Tribunal considerably more difficult.
Given the central position of the Constitutional Tribunal within the Polish judicial system, we risk seeing the emergence of a systemic threat to the Rule of Law.
Concerns have also been raised as regards the new media law. The rule of law, as defined in our Rule of Law Framework, requires the respect for democracy and fundamental rights. Media freedom and pluralism are also closely connected with fundamental rights, in particular the freedom of expression. This is why the Commission considers it necessary to assess this law in the light of the rule of law. The European Union is founded on a common set of values enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, which include in particular the respect for the rule of law. Mutual trust among EU Member States and their respective legal systems depends on the confidence that the rule of law is observed in all Member States. When national rule of law safeguards seems to come under threat, the EU needs to act.
I would also note that the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland has a key role to play in ensuring that the legislative reforms currently envisaged in Poland comply with the Constitution. For this reason as well is it essential to resolve the present dispute concerning the Constitutional Tribunal as a matter of urgency, so that the Tribunal can fully play its role as a national rule of law mechanism.
I wrote to Poland twice on these matters on 23 and 30 December last year. However, the replies we received then were not complete and not sufficient to dispel our concerns.
The Rule of Law framework allows us to assess the matter in a structured manner together with the Polish authorities. We should make use of the Rule of Law framework in an open and constructive manner, in a spirit of cooperation not of confrontation. We have just received, I think an hour or so ago, another letter in answer to the letter I sent last week and we will assess it, indeed, in a constructive and cooperative manner to see what the answers are to the questions we sent last week. Obviously, I cannot go into that already now; we need to assess it carefully, as we just received the letter an hour ago.
I would like to stress firstly that we are at the beginning of the process under the framework. The framework has a preventive nature, and the start of a detailed, factual and legal assessment in no way implies any automatic move to decisions at later stages. That will depend purely on the facts - and answering us so quickly will help to stimulate that dialogue and to have a constructive dialogue with the Polish government.
We will engage in the dialogue in an impartial, evidence-based and cooperative way. It goes without saying that the Commission fully respects the sovereignty of the Republic of Poland, and carries out its duties in an objective and non-partisan manner, as for any other Member State in line with the duties imposed on the Commission by treaties that were signed and ratified by sovereign states - the members of the European Union.
Finally, we will conduct our assessment in close cooperation with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. I welcome that, following my suggestion, the Polish government has itself asked for an opinion of the Venice Commission on the reform of the Constitutional Tribunal.
I want to repeat that this is the spirit in which we wrote to the Polish authorities last week and I have the feeling this is also the spirit in which the Polish government has responded to our letter of last week. We will make a careful analysis of the response and then enter into a further dialogue with the Polish government to hopefully solve this issue shortly.