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EU triggers unprecedented proceedings against Poland, sanctions could follow

The European Union has triggered Article 7 against Poland, a procedure that could result in sanctions targeting Warsaw. The EU says Poland has violated democratic values with proposed judiciary reform.

The European Union’s executive body triggered Article 7 of the EU treaty, branded the “nuclear option,” against Poland on Wednesday. It has been triggered for the first time since the foundation of the bloc.

It is with a heavy heart that we have activated Article 7(1). But the facts leave us with no choice. We have no other option. This is not just about Poland, it is about the EU as a whole. We continue to hope that we can enter into a more fruitful dialogue.

— Frans Timmermans (@TimmermansEU) December 20, 2017

The unprecedented measure was taken amid two-year tensions between the EU and Poland over the latter’s judicial reforms. The bloc is concerned over “a serious breach of the rule of law” in the country, saying the reforms resulted in “the absence of judicial independence.”

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"It is up to Poland to identify its own model for its justice system, but it should do so in a way that respects the rule of law," it said in a statement.

Brussels gave Warsaw three months to address EU concerns, promising to reconsider the decision if Polish authorities “implement the recommended actions.”

The first vice-president of the European Commission said that Warsaw had left it “no choice,” adding that the bloc still hopes to engage in “a more fruitful dialogue.”

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro told Polish state news agency PAP that he is puzzled over the “politically motivated” decision, stressing Warsaw strictly adheres to EU laws.

It comes amid an ongoing feud between Brussels and Warsaw. The EU and Poland's Euroskeptic and socially conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party have been engaged in ongoing disputes since the party came to power in late 2015. The PiS has been urging changes to the Polish judiciary and other institutions, citing the need for a so-called moral renewal of the country.

Earlier this year, protests erupted over the efforts to change the judiciary system. Opposition parties, rights groups, judges' lobbies, the Council of Europe, the EU Commission, and European countries including Germany and France also said the proposed changes would erode judicial independence by bringing the courts under the direct control of the government.

Poland and the EU have also clashed over migration, as Warsaw has refused to accept migrants as part of a quota system devised during the European refugee crisis. Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said in November that the decision has resulted in her country being seen as "a country free of terrorism."

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