EU warns Poland over independence of the country’s justice system

EU warns Poland over independence of the country’s justice system
European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans © Valerie Kuypers

The EU has warned it will refer Poland to the European Court of Justice over legislation which it alleges threatens the independence of the country’s justice system.

Poland introduced the controversial legislative reforms last year, but the move was largely condemned at the time for the potential threat it posed to the independence of the country’s justice system.

Particularly contentious were measures which would allow the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, to appoint and prolong the mandate of supreme court judges, which the EU warned would significantly interfere with the independence of the Polish judiciary.

Despite Poland’s efforts to roll back some of its reforms, and to convince the EU that those that have remained in place do not affect give the government undue power over the judiciary, the European Commission has expressed continued concern, and warned that if Poland’s efforts are insufficient, the country will be referred to the European Court of Justice.

What stage have the negotiations reached?

The European Commission initially took disciplinary measures against Poland last year, insisting that the country amend or remove some of its reforms, including restoring the independence of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, and remove the president’s discretionary power to prolong the mandate of supreme court judges.

Following talks between ministers in Warsaw and Brussels, Poland agreed last month to scale back some of its judicial reforms, but certain controversial legislation remains, including the measures to give the president discretionary power over the mandates of supreme court judges. The EU has also expressed concern about the time-scale of the withdrawal of certain reforms.

What has the EU said?

European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who is responsible for issues around rule of law, told a meeting of ministers from all EU member states that the legislation in Poland still poses a threat to the rule of law in the country.

Timmermans said: “Some progress has been made over the last couple of weeks, but not enough to say that the systemic threat to the rule of law would be removed, so we still need to continue the dialogue… [But] this dialogue cannot continue indefinitely; we have to come to some solution at some point.”

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