European Union sanctions against Poland are off the table and Poles should not be worried about them, Polish deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymański has said.
Szymański’s comment followed Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s visit to Budapest where his counterpart Viktor Orban declared Hungary would stand by Poland in its row with the European Commission.
Orban on Wednesday told Polish public broadcaster TVP that “Hungary stands behind Poland. The current (European Commission) procedure against Poland doesn’t have any real grounds and the procedure itself is not right”.
Szymański told Polish Radio that the Hungarian prime minister’s support for Poland “was entirely enough to end discussions about sanctions in Poland”.
He added that Brussels’s moves against Warsaw – which climaxed in December with the triggering of Article 7 and which could in theory lead to sanctions and Poland being stripped of its voting rights in the European Union – were not “sanctions procedures” because Hungary’s stance precludes penalties.
Under European Union rules, all member states, including Hungary, would have to unanimously agree to impose sanctions against Poland.
Row with Brussels
The European Commission’s unprecedented step of triggering Article 7 of the EU Treaty means that the EU’s executive wants the bloc’s member states to declare that the rule of law in Poland is under threat.
Under the procedure, a majority of four-fifths of EU members -- 22 countries -- can now determine there is a “clear risk of a serious breach” of the bloc’s fundamental values.
Brussels claims that legal changes to Poland’s justice system are a threat to the independence of the judiciary in Poland. Poland’s ruling conservatives have rejected such charges.
Meanwhile, Poland’s foreign ministry said the EU executive's move to launch the Article 7 procedure could hinder efforts to build mutual trust between Warsaw and Brussels.
Poland's governing Law and Justice (PiS) party has said sweeping changes are needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system tainted by the communist past, accusing judges of being an elite, self-serving clique often out of touch with the problems of ordinary citizens.
But opponents have accused Law and Justice of aiming to stack courts with its own candidates and to dismantle the rule of law.
Poland’s Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski has said that Poland was "importing [legal] solutions that already exist in many EU member states".
He said: "We do not agree to double standards if there, in other European countries, the so-called ‘old democracies’, these solutions can exist, while in the Polish so-called ‘new democracy’ these solutions are not accepted by EU officials."
Talks in Budapest
But the Article 7 procedure against Poland was, according to Szymański, not a major talking point during Morawiecki’s Wednesday meeting with Orban.
They discussed the European Union’s policy regarding the migration crisis, which has been rejected by both Warsaw and Budapest. Both Poland and Hungary have failed to accept any migrants under a 2015 relocation plan, agreed to by Poland’s former government.
They also discussed regional cooperation and infrastructure projects in Central Europe.