Sunday

17th Dec 2017

Poland belittles EU action on judicial reform

  • Pro-democracy protest in Poland - Duda vetoed two laws (Photo: Grzegorz Zukowski)

The Polish government has continued to mock the European Commission after it launched legal action over Warsaw’s judicial reforms.

The new wave of recriminations came after the Commission notified Poland in a formal letter on Saturday (29 July) that it had filed “infringement proceedings” over a law on judges’ retirement age.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Kaczynski said Polish judiciary was "sick" (Photo: pis.org.pl)

The Commission said “vague criteria” on how the Polish justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, was to decide on prolongation of judges’ mandates allowed him to “retain influence over the judges concerned”.

It also accused Poland of sexual discrimination by letting women judges retire aged 60 and male judges aged 65.

It gave Warsaw one month to answer its concerns or face EU court action leading to potential fines.

Commission vice president Frans Timmermans in a public statement urged Ziobro to come to Brussels at his “earliest convenience” for the sake of “constructive dialogue”.

But Ziobro’s initial reaction indicated that might not go well.

“This is clearly a political battle with Poland. There are influential groups and politicians behind this, in whose interests it would be for Poland to be a weak country that was open to outside interference,” he told Nasz Dziennik, a right-wing Polish newspaper, in one interview.

He told wSieci, another conservative Polish newspaper, that Poland would follow Hungary’s lead in building a more authoritarian state.

“In politics, you need character. [Hungarian leader] Viktor Orban, who didn’t care about demonstrations, criticisms, or attempts to belittle him, but who changed the country despite the objections of the European establishment, showed this [character],” he said.

The Commission letter comes amid broader EU objections.

Timmermans, last week, threatened EU sanctions against Poland over a wider package of laws that would give Ziobro powers over supreme court appointments and over the National Council of the Judiciary, which controls the profession.

The so called Article 7 sanctions could see Poland's voting rights in the Council of the EU suspended in what would be an unprecedented move.

Earlier EU complaints included the Polish government’s meddling in the constitutional court.

Polish president Andrzej Duda has vetoed two of the contentious laws following street protests, but Ziobro said Duda was risking his head.

He said that if the laws fell, then “the president would be the first to fall” and that the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) would not back him for a second mandate.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the Law and Justice party chief, told Radio Maryja, a right-wing radio station, that the Polish judiciary had to be purged because it was "sick", referring to judges' links with the country's former Communist regime.

Polish opposition

Some Polish opposition politicians welcomed the EU’s intervention in what they say is Kaczynski’s plot to retain power by undermining Polish democracy.

Borys Budka, an MP from the Civic Platform party, said Poland could ultimately “lose its EU membership, because no democratic country would want to be in a union with a country where politicians ruled over judges”.

Katarzyna Lubnauer, an MP from the Modern party, said “if the Commission hadn’t reacted now … none of its following recommendations would have been respected either”.

The Polish foreign ministry’s official reaction to the Commission’s letter said it was “ready” to give a “meritocratic response” to its concerns.

But the ministry warned that judicial issues were “a matter of member states’ competence” according to EU law.

Duda’s chancellery also rejected the EU’s intervention despite the president’s vetes.

’Road to nowhere’

Krzysztof Szczerski, a Duda spokesman, said the Commission was on a “road to nowhere” and that “with every step it takes, it will face even higher costs” in terms of its credibility for its “inevitable” U-turn.

Jaroslaw Gowin, Law and Justice’s deputy-PM, said the Commission risked “destroying the EU” by its overreach.

The Polish culture minister, Jaroslaw Sellin, also attacked Timmermans on a personal level.

“Those at the head of the European Commission tend to be politicians without a strong democratic mandate, retired politicians at home, often [politically] bankrupt”, he said.

He said Timmermans’ political party in The Netherlands, the social democratic Labour Party, “is almost non-existent, it has no influence”.

EU Commission sets red lines for Poland on Article 7

The EU executive expects Warsaw to halt the judiciary reform and address concerns over the rule of law, and not to force out supreme court judges, or else the sanctions procedure will start.

Opinion

Young Poles can halt Kaczynski’s illiberal march

Debates are ongoing on whether president Duda vetoing two out of three bills on judicial reform should be seen as the opposition's success. But the protests brought about another, much less disputed success.

Germany says China using LinkedIn to recruit informants

Germany's spy agency says the Chinese state is trying to recruit high-ranking German officials via social media outlets like LinkedIn. It accused Chinese intelligence of setting up fake profiles to lure them into becoming informants.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives