The European Commission has begun legal proceedings against Poland after determining that the Polish government’s recent justice laws undermine the judicial independence of the country’s courts.

The move came amid growing concerns about the general rule of law in Poland, which will now have two months to respond to Brussels after the latter took the first formal step towards legal action on 3 April, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said while informing journalists.

“We have an obvious, chilling effect on the activities of judges, and this is incompatible with the requirements of judicial independence,” said Timmermans, who added, “There is a growing consensus that further action to protect the rule of law in the whole of the European Union is needed.”

Romania’s problems date back to accession

In addition to reprimanding Poland, Timmermans also signalled out Romania as a country of concern and warned that “any government action that would disrupt the Romanian judicial system by creating systemic, de-facto impunity for high office holders who were sentenced for corruption would compel the Commission to act swiftly,” adding “Romania urgently needs to put the reform process back on track. This means going forward, not backwards, and refraining from any steps which reverse the progress accomplished over the past years.”

Romania and Bulgaria’s problems date back to the accession as full members of the EU in 2007 when concerns over the two countries’ lack of rule of law worried many observers at the time, which prompted Timmermans to state, “These issues should be solved by the (two) countries before they joined the EU. The assumption made back then, that issues could be solved after becoming a member state, was an optimistic one,” Timmermans underlined. “Unfortunately, we have not reached the conclusion that Romania is on the right track.”