December 20, 2017

Brussels triggers Article 7 but ignores Poland's press freedom violations

European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans addresses a press conference announcing the triggering of the Article 7 procedure / AFP
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes today's European Commission decision to trigger Article 7 of the European Union treaty against Poland, finally taking the strong action that RSF has urged for months. But RSF regrets that the decision only addresses Poland's moves against judicial independence and ignores its repeated attacks on the media.

This is the first time in the EU's history that the Commission has used Article 7 in an attempt to "safeguard the rule of law" in a member country. Triggering the article sets off a complex procedure that could result in Poland losing its voting rights within the Council of the European Union (comprising the 28 member states).

"We welcome this decision, which shows a determination to defend the European democratic model," said Julie Majerczak, RSF's representative in Brussels. "After two years of a dialogue of the deaf between Brussels and Warsaw, triggering the Article 7 procedure was essential.

"The Polish government has to understand that it cannot trample on European values and threaten democracy with impunity. We nonetheless regret that the Commission is only addressing the judicial issues and is ignoring the ultra-conservative PiS government's attacks on the media."

The situation in Poland is alarming. As well as adopting judicial reforms that are liable to eliminate all judicial independence, the Polish authorities have been taking measures that threaten all checks and balances and fundamental freedoms, especially freedom of the press.

After bringing the state media under its direct control, the government has been taking action to intimidate independent journalists who dare to criticize its policies, and has been trying to throttle critical media outlets by imposing astronomic fines on them.

"These attacks cannot go unanswered," said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF's EU-Balkans desk. "This European Union measure should not be limited to Poland's judicial reforms but should include the violations of all the European values cited in Article 2. The EU must reject the Polish government's entire anti-democratic agenda."

Poland is ranked 54th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, seven places lower than in the 2016 index, in which it suffered a spectacular 29-place fall.