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Since 2016, the European Parliament adopted a total of nine resolutions regarding potential violations of the rule of law and fundamental rights in Poland. Today, it adopted another one.

In the resolution, adopted with 513 votes to 148 (33 abstentions), the European Parliament “condemns the destabilizing impact on the Polish legal order of the measures taken and appointments made by the Polish authorities since 2016”. But the Polish legal system is not the only issue of concern. The document also addresses the issue of discrimination against LGBTI people (including the “LGBTI free zones”) or “the very restrictive ban on public assemblies which was in force during the COVID-19 pandemic without the introduction of a state of natural disaster as laid down in the Polish Constitution”.

On Monday (September 14), the European Parliament discussed the report prepared by the Civil Liberties Committee on the breaches of the rule of law and fundamental rights in Poland. During the discussion, the Vice President of the European Commission, Vera Jourová, noticed that “the recent developments show that the situation has not improved since the last plenary debate in February”. The rapporteur, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, called on the Polish government not to “move away from the European values”. - Poland is at the heart of Europe and we need to be able to defend the Polish citizens- he said.

"Dialogue means impunity"

MEPs have urged the EU Council -currently headed by Germany- to refrain from interpreting the rule of law principle too narrowly (thus not to limit it to the Polish legal system per se), and while launching the disciplinary procedure under Article 7, to also consider broader issues such as respect for democratic principles and fundamental rights. Most importantly, however, they called on the Council to finally act under Article 7, because the process, since the last time it’s been triggered, had lost its momentum.

The rule of law in Poland will also be one of the topics discussed during the EU Council’s General Affairs meeting in Brussels next week. However, the meeting won’t be a formal “hearing” but rather an “informational” session intended to brief the ministers on the state of play concerning, for instance, the dialogue between Brussels and Poland.

- I don’t want to hear the word dialogue anymore. We’ve been in dialogue with Mr. Orban for 10 years, and look at where we are now. Dialogue means impunity by now – said the Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld, urging EU institutions to start acting more decisively.

- It’s an indictment against a government that thinks of itself as being above the law, the constitution, and is trying to prosecute everyone who disagrees with it- said the liberal central-right MEP Andrzej Halicki, commenting on the report prepared by Mr. López Aguilar. Patryk Jaki, in turn, a member of the Conservatives, was trying to convince the Parliament that there are no “LGBT free zones” in Poland, and called such discriminatory policies “regional family right laws”. – Look at me. Look at us. I’m not an ideology, we are not an ideology. We are human beings, we are made out of flesh and blood – urged Terry Reintke, a member of the German Greens.

Protecting the rights of sexual minorities

Some voices in the European Parliament also called on the Commission to consider launching an infringement procedure (ending in the European Court of Justice) against the resolutions adopted by regional and local authorities concerning the creation of “LGBTI free zones” in Poland. Such policies, they argued, violate the rules of equal treatment in employment and occupation.

Back in July, the Commission rejected the applications for financing projects within the EU twinning project framework filed by the districts and municipalities that adopted the “anti-LGBT” legislation. Jourová was very clear about the fact that EU funds cannot be used to finance regions where the rights of sexual minorities are violated. But the European Union still needs to agree on a clear definition of the rule of law. More so, considering that during a negotiation-session in July, the Member states agreed on making the rule of law a necessary condition for accessing the EU budget, including a generous stimulus package of EUR 750 billion to help the bloc alleviate some of its economic burden caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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