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17th Jan 2021

Poland to respect EU injunction on judicial purge

  • Ziobro: "Poland ... will act in accordance with EU law" (Photo: Piotr Drabik)

The Polish government has pledged to uphold EU law in the face of a court order to halt its judicial purge.

"Poland is an EU member and will act in accordance with EU law," Zbigniew Ziobro, its justice minister and prosecutor general, said on Friday (19 October).

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  • Kaczynski: "We've always been pro-European" (Photo: pis.org.pl)

"In my talks in Brussels, I think I convinced a few leaders, what the Polish judicial reforms are really like and why they are needed," Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said after a summit in the EU capital.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party declined to say more, pending receipt of formal notification of an EU court ruling the same day ordering it to halt its forced retirement of Polish Supreme Court (SC) judges.

All judges who had been forced out since 3 July, when the PiS purge began, should also be allowed back "in the same post, while continuing to enjoy the same status and the same rights and working conditions as they did before", the EU injunction said.

The fact the European Commission has complained Polish people might no longer get trials free from political meddling meant the injunction was "urgently" needed, they said.

"The infringement of a fundamental right such as the right to an independent court or tribunal is capable ... of giving rise in itself to serious and irreparable damage", to those concerned, it added.

The EU injunction is the second of its kind after judges in Luxembourg also stopped Poland from logging in a primeval forest earlier this year, an order which PiS obeyed.

"What's the point of causing such shame for our country?", Malgorzata Gersdorf, the previous SC head, who was forced out by PiS, said.

"The injunctions should be understood as meaning that, in the opinion of the EU Court of Justice, the position of the European Commission appears to be at least sufficiently credible," Dariusz Zawistowski, the current SC head, who was appointed by Polish president Andrzej Duda, said.

The fact that Duda, a PiS ally, had created 27 new judges by personal fiat "not bound by any criteria and ... not subject to any form of judicial review" came in for special criticism in the EU court statement.

EU sanctions

Morawiecki's summit diplomacy comes amid commission threats to press for sanctions on Poland over the affair.

Hungary and the Baltic states have pledged to veto such measures and Poland has pledged to veto sanctions on Hungary in a similar case, but each stage of the process threatens to harm the ruling elites.

"This kind of decision on the eve of the electoral quiet period is open interference in the [Polish] election campaign," Samuel Pereira, the head of the TVP Info website, a pro-PiS media in Warsaw, said as Poland knuckled down for local elections on Sunday.

PiS has said the purge was necessary to get rid of former communist stooges and of judges who were loyal to opposition parties.

The right-wing government has also clashed with the EU on migrants after it boycotted the result of an EU Council vote on burden-sharing from 2015.

The disputes have multiplied in smaller areas, such as the primeval forest logging case or Poland's recent veto of an EU statement on gay rights.

Ziobro, earlier this month, even asked the Polish Constitutional Tribunal to rule whether Polish judges had the right to refer queries on interpretation of EU law to the EU high court.

If the Constitutional Tribunal, which is now filled with PiS appointees, says they do not, that could undermine Poland's membership in the EU by de facto rejecting the EU treaty, some judicial experts said.

It could also be used by PiS to reject EU court injunctions or other judgements, they said.

Public opinion

With 70 percent of Polish people in favour of EU membership, PiS chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Ziobro downplayed the talk of a Polish EU exit ahead of the regional vote on Sunday.

"We've always been pro-European, in the sense of supporting Polish EU membership, and we haven't changed our minds," Kaczynski said.

"Poland feels very good in the EU," Ziobro said.

But for Gersdorf, the former SC head, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal already settled the matter prior to the PiS purge.

"The question of the [Polish] constitution's subservience to the Lisbon Treaty or vice versa was already discussed. The tribunal said the Polish constitution had a higher status, but that the [EU] treaty does not infringe upon it in any way," she said.

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