The EU Commission has taken Poland to the European Court of Justice over a reform it thinks undermines the independence of the country’s judiciary. Poland claims the EU has no legal right to meddle in its internal politics.
The case against Poland was filed with the EU’s top court on Wednesday. Announcing the decision, European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova said she has been “deeply concerned” with Warsaw’s actions.
“Despite the rulings of the European Court of Justice and our numerous attempts to remedy the situation, the pressure on Polish judges continues to increase and their independence is under constant erosion,” Jourova said in a statement.
I am deeply concerned about the continued actions that undermine judicial independence in Poland.— Věra Jourová (@VeraJourova) March 31, 2021
Polish judges are European judges and they should do their job without political pressure. We decided to refer again Poland to the @EUCourtPress. https://t.co/kQ3Jreh1Ul pic.twitter.com/kJwK0EdMGq
Stressing that the “Polish judges are also European judges,” Jourova said that EU member states are free to reform their judiciaries as they please, but they must also “respect the EU treaties.”
A spokesman for the Polish government, Piotr Muller, has criticized the move as having no legal or factual justification, and said that issues concerning the judiciary relate to Poland’s internal politics.
Poland has been at odds with the EU for several years over its reform of the judiciary and state-run media, as well as the government’s stance on LGBT rights and abortion. The controversial judiciary reform was signed into a law by the country’s President Andrzej Duda in February 2020, despite being rejected by the country’s upper house of parliament.
The legislation established new disciplinary mechanisms, effectively barring judges from questioning the government’s divisive judicial reforms and engaging in political life. Judges daring to do so could face fines, salary cuts or lose their jobs altogether.
The EU Commission insists the legislation has violated EU laws “by allowing the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court – the independence of which is not guaranteed – to take decisions which have a direct impact on judges and the way they exercise their function.”
To prevent what it described as “serious and irreparable harm” to Poland’s judiciary system while the case drags on, the EU Commission asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to impose a set of “interim measures” against Warsaw. The proposed measures include suspension of the new powers of the Polish Disciplinary Chamber, as well as suspension of all the decisions made by the body after the legislation was adopted.
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Earlier this month, Poland, together with Hungary – another country repeatedly attacked by Brussels over alleged “issues with the rule of law” – filed complaints against the bloc with the ECJ. The two nations challenged a proposed provision, allowing the EU to withhold funding from member countries deemed to have rule-of-law issues.
Poland and Warsaw believe the bloc’s criticism of their reforms to constitute meddling in their internal affairs, insisting that Brussels has no “legal basis” to do so. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki claims his country’s sovereignty is at stake as it battles against EU “oligarchy.”
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