Why Poland could be another looming European crisis

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Europe has just got another headache and this time the cause comes from north of the usual southern trouble spots of Greece, Italy and Spain.

Over the weekend, protesters took to streets of Poland demonstrating against the government's budget for 2017 and its plans to introduce new restrictions on the media.

This is not the first time that the Polish right-wing Law and Justice government has come under fire after taking office in late 2015 as public and international discontent grows over some of its policies, including on abortion and restrictions on press freedom.

CNBC takes a look at what's going on in one of the largest European economies and what might happen.


Why are people protesting in Poland?

The Law and Justice party has put forward new restrictions on the media last week, after previous proposals to oversee the appointment of newspaper editors.

Opposition lawmakers requested that the new limits to the media be dropped.

They have also demanded a new vote on the budget for next year after the government approved the spending plan by not putting it though parliament, but holding the vote in an nearby chamber, with a high number of government supporters – something that the country's opposition deemed as "illegal."

The country's Prime Minister, Beata Szydlo, said the attitude of her parliamentary opponents was "scandalous".

Thousands of opposition demonstrators decided to take to the streets to express their discontent with the government's actions.

"The current protests have to be seen under the wider political regression context," Steven Blockmans, senior research analyst at the Centre for European Policy Studies told CNBC over the phone.

What other policies have been controversial?

Omar Marques | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Since the Law and Justice government took office in October 2015, there have been several walkouts. Protestors have complained against changes to the constitutional court, surveillance reforms as well as changes to media law.

More recently, nearly six million people protested against an effective ban on abortion.

"There has been a dramatic regression in respect of the rule of law (since) the new government took office," Blockmans added.


What has the European Union done to ensure democracy in Poland?

Last July, the European Commission opened an unprecedented investigation into the rule of law in Poland – a procedure that is started when there are concerns that a particular country is going against the EU's democratic values.

At the time, the commission said that it was only taking "preliminary action" but after several dialogues with the Polish government over the last 11 months, the commission could be close from proposing penalties to Poland for not addressing the EU's concerns.

"The Commission has already expressed concerns on a few occasions about the state of the rule of law in Poland," Mina Andreeva, a spokesperson for the commission told reporters on Monday.

Though there is no deadline for the European Commission to propose such penalties – which could go as far as removing the country's voting rights at the EU level, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has decided to include the issue on this Wednesday's weekly meeting.

The political discontent in Poland is another problem at the EU table at a time when the region needs to deal with Brexit, an economic crisis in Greece, the rise of populism, among others.

Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister and now head of the European Council, said last Saturday that whoever was undermining the "European model of democracy" in Poland was "exposing us all to strategic risks".

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