Friday

5th Jun 2020

Polish law 'undermining basis of EU legal order'

  • PiS party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński kissing an MP's hand (Photo: pis.org.pl)

The European Commission has opened a fourth legal case in its bid to stop Poland from crashing out of the EU's legal order.

A new Polish law, which entered into force on 14 February, "undermines the independence of Polish judges," EU values commissioner Věra Jourová said in Brussels on Wednesday (29 April).

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"The [new] disciplinary regime can be used as a system of political control of the content of judicial decisions", she said.

The law meant Polish judges could now be disciplined by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party for a host of new reasons.

If Polish judges became PiS marionettes that destroyed "mutual trust" between member states' judiciaries, a "foundation" of the EU, Jourová noted.

But the Polish Valentine's Day law went further, also giving PiS the power to block Polish judges from referring cases to the EU courts in Luxembourg and from applying European legislation in Poland.

And that "undermined the very basis of the EU legal order" Jourová said.

It was "incompatible with the primacy of EU law" in member states, a cornerstone of the EU treaties, the EU commission also said in a statement.

The commission launched an "infringement procedure" against Poland the same day, which could lead to fines and EU court injunctions.

It was the fourth of its kind since PiS first locked horns with Brussels over judicial reform in 2016.

The commission has also triggered an EU sanctions procedure which could end in Poland losing voting rights in the EU Council and threatened to cut funds in the next EU budget if PiS did not back down.

But the nationalist-populist juggernaut of party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński has continued rolling forward anyway.

And his ruling party has also picked fights with the EU centre on migration, climate, illegal logging, and over its use of far-right hate speech.

Poland, a country of 38m people who overthrew communist rule, was the jewel in the crown of Europe's post-Cold War reunification in 2004.

But Jourová's remarks on Poland splitting away from "the very basis of the EU legal order" was just the latest warning that PiS judicial reforms were pushing its very EU membership into limbo.

Kaczyński's republic was undergoing "irreversible changes that will de facto exclude Poland from the circle of European legal culture and western democracy," a group of European academics also said in a joint letter to Jourová on Wednesday.

"If you question not just EU values, but also fundamental EU institutions and EU law, then it means you don't want to be part of this Europe," Igor Tuleya, a PiS-critical Polish judge, recently told EUobserver.

"If you punish Polish judges for verdicts that apply EU law, then it's a legal Polexit [Polish-exit]," Tuleya, who risks three years in prison in a case arising from the PiS reforms, said.

"Poland is going back to the 1980s, when we were closed off from the world," he added.

Pandemic election

Meanwhile, the country that overthrew communism is also preparing to vote in a controversial presidential election on 10 May.

The vote will likely see the incumbent, PiS-loyalist Andrzej Duda, retain office, in part because no one else has been able to campaign due to Poland's pandemic lockdown.

The vote will take place by post only, under 11th-hour PiS arrangements.

And it will be "unfair and not free", according to the 30-or-so legal scholars from around Europe who wrote to Jourová.

But it will take place under the EU commission's spotlight, she said on Wednesday, while voicing "serious concern" that pandemic emergency laws could be used to violate EU treaty norms in Europe.

"If I was a Polish citizen, I would have many questions," she said.

"I would like fair access to vote and I would like to have seen all the candidates campaigning," she added.

"The virus must not kill democracy," Jourová said, referring also to Hungary, which recently introduced draconian pandemic powers.

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