The European Commission has just initiated an unprecedented inquiry into the rule of law in Poland. The aim of the inquiry is to assess whether laws passed by the newly elected right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS), which curb the power of the country’s Constitutional Tribunal and the state media, infringe upon the democratic rules of the European Union. On Jan. 13, 2016, the Commission’s vice president, Frans Timmermans, announced a preliminary assessment under the rule of law mechanism. This mechanism is used for addressing infringements to the rule of law in any of the EU’s 28 member states and allows the European Commission to put pressure on a member state to change any measure considered a “systemic threat” to fundamental EU values. In addition, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission will assess whether the new law on Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal violates fundamental principles enshrined in the Polish Constitution.
Since the fall of communism in 1989, Poland has been a transformation success story. The Bertelsmann Transformation Index confirms this, ranking Poland fifth of 129 developing and transitioning countries in its assessment of political transformation toward democracy and a market economy.