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European Commission recommends 'nuclear option' against Poland

By Ed Adamczyk
European Commission recommends 'nuclear option' against Poland
Over 60,000 Polish nationalists march in Warsaw on November 11, as the elected Law and Justice party passed legislation to restrict the independence of the country's judicial branch. File Photo by Jasek Tusczyk/EPA-EFE

Dec. 20 (UPI) -- The European Commission took the unprecedented step Wednesday of recommending sanctions against Poland for its government's far-right drift.

The commission, the executive arm of the European Union, began a procedure called the "nuclear option" by which Poland could be stripped of its EU voting power.

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The triggering of Article 7.1, a never-used warning that there "is a clear risk of a serious breach by a member state of the values" of the EU, could push Poland further toward the right. It would also lead to a vote on Article 7.2, which includes suspension of voting rights, but the second vote must be unanimous among the 28 member states. A similar authoritarian regime like Hungary's could stop the move. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Hungary would vote again a suspension, but Poland would remain with the stigma of being judged in breach of values endorsed by the other 27 countries.

The threat of a sanction could bring Poland more in line with the rest of the EU. A vote on the matter is expected early next year.

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Poland passed 13 laws in the past two years that could fill its judiciary branch with political appointees with power to judge the validity of elections. A separation of government powers is part of the EU's requirements, as specified by an international panel of constitutional experts known as the Venice Commission.

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"The constitutionality of legislation can no longer be guaranteed," said Frans Timmermans, European Commission vice president. "We continue to stand ready for dialogue, every day, whenever the Polish authorities would deem it possible."

Poland's rightward swing came after the nationalist Law and Justice party won enough parliament seats in a 2015 election to control the legislature. It quickly began passing legislation limiting the powers of the courts and strengthening the executive branch. Last month it passed a bill to forcibly retire over one-third of judges on Poland's Supreme Court. Lawyers and election officials say they were not consulted on the bill.

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The rise of the party comes as right-wing sentiment against Muslim immigration increases. Over 60,000 nationalists marched in a November 11 Independence Day rally in Warsaw, some carrying banners promoting a "White Europe." A party spokesman called the European Commission recommendation politically motivated, adding that "We don't want to accept Muslim immigrants, as we care for the security of Poles," the Independent reported on Wednesday.

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