Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

Judicial reforms 'restore balance', Poland tells EU

  • Royal castle in Warsaw: Poland filed the EU document just before a Brussels deadline (Photo: Uggboy)

Poland has filed its response to EU objections on judicial reform, but European ministers did not take kindly to its previous paper on the affair.

Warsaw sent its document to Brussels late on Tuesday (20 March), shortly before the expiration of a European Commission deadline at midnight.

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The document showed that "the reforms … restored the necessary balance between the executive, legislative, and judiciary powers while maintaining all guarantees of independence of the judiciary", the Polish foreign ministry said in a press release.

The reforms "meet the [Polish] public's expectations and the solutions do not differ from those adopted in other EU members", the ministry said.

It added that Poland was ready for "further dialogue" and wanted "a satisfactory solution for both sides".

The Polish document itself urged the commission not to take further steps until the changes had been "fully implemented", according to a copy seen by PAP, the Polish press agency.

It also warned of setting a "dangerous precedent" of undermining EU states' sovereignty, which could lead to "strengthening of anti-European sentiment, which has been more and more apparent".

Polish education minister Jaroslaw Gowin told Polish TV on Tuesday that Warsaw was playing for high stakes.

"The stake of this dispute is whether the continuing attempts of the Brussels bureaucracy to curb the sovereignty of individual member states, against the letter and the spirit of the Lisbon Treaty, can be stopped," he said.

Gowin accused Frans Timmermans, the Dutch EU commissioner handling the Polish affair, of "being used to looking down on new European Union countries".

Withering assessment

The Polish minister spoke after Timmermans gave a withering assessment of Warsaw's previous effort to justify the reforms, a 94-page white paper sent to Brussels earlier this month.

"This is a white paper stating again the Polish position," Timmermans told press in Brussels on Tuesday.

"If this idea that you have the right to reform the judiciary ... is understood as the right to put it under political control, then we have a problem," he said.

"There was agreement across the table that this white paper is not the answer to the commission's recommendations," he added, after having discussed Poland with EU affairs ministers at a regular meeting.

German EU minister Michael Roth also spoke out in strident terms.

"Talking for talking's sake is not enough", he said.

"Our expectations are clear: We expect the adoption of appropriate changes to the law in Poland, taking into account the commission's objections," he added.

Roth spoke to press after German chancellor Angela Merkel visited Poland on Monday. The minister told his EU peers inside the meeting on Tuesday that Berlin "still hoped for dialogue" with Warsaw, but that he was becoming "less optimistic" of an amicable solution, an EU source told EUobserver.

The French and Spanish ministers rejected Poland's idea that the reforms were comparable to their judicial systems, Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza said.

Sanctions

The commission has threatened to impose unprecedented sanctions on Poland if it does not satisfy concerns.

These include the suspension of its voting rights in the EU Council, even though Hungary and the Baltic states have vowed to veto such a measure.

The latest Polish document comes shortly before an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

But details of the Polish position are unlikely to be discussed until the commission has pored over the text for its next weekly meeting.

"I don't think Tusk is inclined to take the initiative and invite a discussion on rule of law at the summit," an EU source said, referring to EU council chairman Donald Tusk, who is a former prime minister of Poland.

Poland defends judicial reforms, warns against EU pressure

Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki presented the Commission with 94-pages of arguments backing Warsaw's controversial judicial reforms - while his EU minister warns that constant conflict with Brussels could stoke anti-European sentiment.

Poland shows no sign of concessions to Commission

While the dialogue between Warsaw and the Commission has improved since new prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki entered office, there is no sign of compromise over rule of law concerns - as the clock ticks towards a March deadline.

Opinion

Poland's disoriented EU policy

Neither a 'Three Seas' Baltics initiative, nor its burgeoning relationship with China, can save Poland from the fact it needs a strong EU orientation. But Law and Justice's 'more markets, less politics' attitude lost an ally in Brexit.

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