In December, the European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union of which Poland is part, took the unprecedented step of triggering Article 7 of the EU Treaty against the country, stepping up pressure on Warsaw over controversial changes to the judicial system by the country’s ruling conservatives.
The European Commission on December 20 gave Warsaw three months to respond to its recommendations on the rule of law. Tuesday marked the end of the EU executive's deadline.
The Polish government spokeswoman, Joanna Kopcińska, was quoted by public broadcaster Polish Radio's IAR news agency on Tuesday as saying that "the response will be forwarded."
During Tuesday’s debate, Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the European Commission, was expected to brief the meeting on ongoing talks with Poland. He was also expected to offer an evaluation of a "white paper" that the government in Warsaw has drawn up to explain its reasons for the contested judiciary changes.
During a debate in the European Parliament in late February, Timmermans voiced hope that the European Commission and the Polish government would hammer out an agreement by the end of March.
Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said ahead of Tuesday’s meeting that the government's arguments defending its judicial overhaul were “slowly coming home” to officials in Brussels. The legal changes in Poland “are not intended to limit the independence of judges, but to maintain independence and to improve efficiency,” Czaputowicz said on Monday.
The European Commission’s December Article 7 move means that the EU executive wants the bloc’s member states to declare the rule of law in Poland is under threat.
Such a step could pave the way for sanctions being imposed on Poland, for example suspending its voting rights in the European Union. But penalties on Warsaw would have to be backed unanimously by EU member states, an improbable scenario after some member states, including Hungary, have said they would not support sanctions.
In late February, the Hungarian parliament adopted a resolution to support Poland in its dispute with the European Commission over the judicial changes.
Meanwhile, the prime minister of Lithuania, Saulius Skvernelis, said earlier this month that his country, a fellow member of the European Union, would support Poland in the row.
Skvernelis added that his country could play the role of a mediator between the European Commission and the government in Warsaw.
Poland's governing Law and Justice (PiS) party has said sweeping legal changes are needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system tainted by the communist past, accusing judges of being a 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.