Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, said on Wednesday that an infringement procedure might be launched against Poland over a breach of the rule of law or steps under Article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union.
Ms Von der Leyen's statement relates to a ruling last week by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal (TK) that several articles of the EU Treaties do not comply with the Polish constitution, calling into question the primacy of European Union law over national legislation.
The supremacy of EU law over national law is a central tenet of EU membership so any challenge to it could spark a serious dispute between Poland and Brussels with potentially dire consequences for both.
During a press conference in Brussels, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson informed journalists on the substance of a Wednesday meeting of the Commissioners’ College at which Von der Leyen had made the announcement.
According to Ms Simson, the EC head had said the Commission's aim must be to ensure that the rights of Polish citizens are protected and that they could all enjoy the benefits of the EU, like all other citizens.
Ms Simson said that Ms Von der Leyen had stressed that a detailed analysis of the TK ruling was underway, but the initial assessment was that it would cause serious problems. Ms Von der Leyen had also presented various responses, including a new infringement procedure, application of a conditionality mechanism governing the payout of EU funds, and a procedure under the sanctioning Article 7 of the EU Treaty.
Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union is a procedure in the treaties of the European Union (EU) to suspend certain rights from a member state. While rights can be suspended, there is no mechanism to expel a member.
The European Council can vote to suspend any rights of membership, such as voting and representation as outlined above. Identifying the breach requires unanimity (excluding the state concerned), but sanctions require only a qualified majority. The Council acting by the majority may alter or lift such sanctions. The state in question would still be bound by the obligations of the treaties.