Published On: Sat, Jul 29th, 2017

EU at breaking point? Meddling Brussels launches legal action against Poland


Protests have raged on the streets of Warsaw as the Law and Justice Party (PiS) pushes ahead with reforms that Brussels says will undermine the independence of Poland’s common courts.

And in a desperate bid to throw its weight around the European Commission has given Warsaw one month to respond. 

The reforms include plans to let the government fire Supreme Court judges. 

EU commissioners have decided to launch the “infringement procedure” for violating European Union law, the first step in a legal process that may end at the bloc’s top court, pending publication of Poland’s new law.

EU Poland news sanctions European Union Brussels Warsaw law judicial reformsGETTY – STOCK

The European Commission has launched legal action against Poland’s controversial judicial reforms


The situation, including at international level, is really serious

European Council President Donald Tusk


The European Commission said in a statement: “The new rules allow the minister of justice to exert influence on individual ordinary judges through, in particular, the vague criteria for the prolongation of their mandates thereby undermining the principle of irremovability of judges.”

The Commission is concerned about discretionary power given to Poland’s minister of justice to prolong the mandates of judges who reach retirement age, as well as to dismiss and appoint court presidents.

It said a key legal concern was the introduction of different retirement ages – for female judges at 60 and male judges at 65.

But Polish deputy foreign minister Konrad Szymanski hit back branding the Commission’s decision “unjustified” because the organisation of the legal systems in EU members was up to member states and not EU institutions.

Mr Szymanski told state news agency PAP court presidents in Poland performed mostly administrative functions.

He also said the new regulation on the retirement of judges was aimed at bringing it into line with a reduction in the retirement age that enters into force in October.

The EU has also warned it would trigger its most serious sanction, Article 7, if Poland goes ahead with the reforms proposed by right-wing PiS. 

GETTY

Poland protestGETTY

Protests have raged on the streets of Warsaw as the PiS pushed ahead with its reforms

Article 7 would suspend Poland’s EU voting rights and has never been tested in practice. 

Poland’s eurosceptic government has rejected Brussels’ objections as “blackmail” and unjustified criticism.

Government spokesman Rafal Bochenek said Poland “does not agree to any blackmail by EU officials, especially blackmail which is not based on facts.”

He said: “All the bills prepared by the Polish parliament are in line with the Polish constitution and democratic principles.”

The Polish government has proposed four laws fundamentally changing how the judiciary is run. 

Two of the laws were passed by parliament and the other two were unexpectedly blocked by Polish President Andrzej Duda earlier this week indicating a split between his office and the prime minister. 

EU Poland commission Frans TimmermansGETTY

Brussels say the new laws will undermine the independence of Poland’s common courts

The two laws not passed would force the resignation of all supreme court justices and allow their replacements to be selected by the justice minister. 

They would also give government-appointed members of the National Council of the Judiciary, which selected judicial candidates, a power of veto. 

Mr Duda’s decision came after days of widespread protests in Poland

European Council President Donald Tusk said the PiS’ move on courts went backwards and “against European standards and values”.

He said: “It falls to use, together, to avert bleak outcomes which could ultimately lead to the marginalisation of Poland in Europe.

“The situation, including at international level, is really serious. And that is why I am asking for serious measures and serious partners. Please let us try, Mr. President.”

EU Poland news sanctions European Union Brussels WarsawGETTY – STOCK

Poland’s eurosceptic government has rejected Brussels’ objections as ‘blackmail’

But Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban railed against the EU and said his country will use all available legal means to protect Poland from the EU’s “inquisition campaign”. 

He said the EU leadership is intruding on member states’ rights and trying to apply policies. 

Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans sent a letter to Poland’s foreign minister on Friday reiterating an invitation to meet in Brussels for talks. 

The legal action comes just one day after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ordered Poland to immediately stop a large-scale logging operation in the primeval Bialoweiza forest.

The ruling from the EU’s top court comes as part of attempts to save the trees at the UNESCO World Heritage-listed forest, as a European Union lodged case against Warsaw looks likely to drag on for years.

A spokeswoman for the ECJ gave no immediate reason for the interim ruling, but it follows a legal appeal from the European Commission earlier this month.


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