He said that the purpose isn't to point the finger at any individual country, but to put in place a regular oversight process — to "improve the common understanding of what the rule of law is and create a strong rule of law culture across the EU."
The move results from the EU's decision to begin sanction procedures over changes to the justice systems in Poland and Hungary, which are widely seen as violating EU law. The main thrust of the new measures is to pre-empt changes that could be considered as bad practice.
"We will continue ensuring the right application of the rule of law across Europe because we believe it goes to the very heart of the functioning of the European Union," Timmermans told a news conference.
He stressed that countries have every right to reform their justice systems but that they have to do so within EU law. Poland has been in particular focus of late. The commission's dispute with Poland is largely centered on a new Disciplinary Chamber at the Supreme Court that can see judges punished when their decisions and actions are deemed wrong or inappropriate.
The commission found the reasoning provided by the Polish authorities as unsatisfactory. The government has been pointing to recently reported cases of mistaken convictions and of dishonesty. This week, the commission stepped up the pressure on Poland to reverse the changes.
"The way the disciplinary chamber is organized leads to a level of political steering and interference which does pose a problem for the independence of judges and we were not convinced by the reply of the Polish government so we will take this a step further," Timmermans said.
Poland, he added, has been given two months to make corrections. "If that does not lead to a satisfactory reply, we of course will take the issue to the European Court of Justice." Timmermans said he has "no doubt that the next commission will be as forceful, as concrete, as clear and as determined" in defending the rule of law.
The next commission will take office later this year and will be headed by Ursula von der Leyen. Timmermans will continue in his role.