This past summer, Poland passed legislation widely understood to limit the independence of its judiciary, and bring it into line with the desires of the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) party. On Wednesday, after months of pleading with the Polish government to reverse course, the European Union invoked Article 7 of its charter, which allows it to discipline member states for a “clear risk of serious breach” of the EU’s core principles — here, respect for the rule of law. Article 7, known as the “nuclear option,” has never been triggered against a member state before.
There is a long process before discipline, if any, is invoked against Poland. But if 22 of 28 member states ultimately conclude that judicial independence is truly threatened, Poland could face EU sanctions or even loss of voting rights.