The European Union announced is it “very close” to activating a ‘nuclear option’ to punish Poland by suspending its EU voting rights and possibly levying sanctions if the Poles follow through on legislation to amend elements of its judicial system.

The Polish government, led by the conservative-leaning Law and Justice Party (PiS), is advancing reforms aimed at dismantling a “privileged caste” of left-wing activist lawyers and judges, obligating ‘Christian values’ to be considered in Supreme Court rulings, and shaking up the entire judiciary by dismissing many sitting judges while also re-structuring how they are appointed.

“The party argues that the changes are necessary to destroy the vestiges of communist power inherent in the justice system,” reports Deutsche Welle. “PiS party founder Jaroslaw Kaczynski – himself a trained lawyer – believes that Poland’s court system is still a ‘stronghold of post-communists.’

In response, the EU is threatening repercussions for what it deems a “systematic threat to the rule of law in Poland” and possible ‘breach of fundamental human rights’ should Warsaw pass the reforms in full.

“We will swiftly prepare infringement procedures for breach of EU law, also to be launched next week,” European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans declared. “The option of triggering Article 7 of the Treaty was part of the discussion and it should come as no surprise to anyone that, given the latest developments, we are coming very close to triggering Article 7.”

“Our hand is still extended to the Polish authorities for dialogue. But dialogue must be aimed at redressing the situation. And dialogue, if it happens or not, will not stop the Commission from taking any measures it deems necessary in this framework.”

Timmermans also tweeted that contributing to the “enlargement of the EU” has been the most important event in his life.

Article 7, which has never been triggered before, is a two part procedure, often referred to as a “nuclear option,” designed to empower Brussels to severely punish member states for what it considers fundamental rights violations.

“Article 7.1 would allow the Council to give a formal warning to any country accused of violating fundamental rights,” explains Politico. “If that doesn’t have the desired effect, Article 7.2 would impose sanctions and suspend voting rights.”

“However, that provision has to be adopted unanimously, and Hungary — ruled by Warsaw’s ideological ally Victor Orbán — has said it would veto such a step.”

“We stand by Poland, and we call on the European Commission not to overstep its authority,” said Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto.

Polish President Andrzej Duda must ratify the reform bill before it becomes law, and while he generally aligns with the PiS agenda, he has countered with his own amendments aimed to preserve separation of powers between the government and judiciary.

“The judicial system is a very serious matter. It requires reform, but it requires smart reform,” said Duda, himself a former lawyer. “This draft bill should stop the Council from being subject to a single party, a single political group. This is unacceptable… It would be seen as a political diktat.”

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