Saturday

26th May 2018

Poland 'leaving EU community of values'

  • Kaczynski accused of "dictatorial" ambitions (Photo: ois.org.pl)

Leading MEPs and legal watchdogs have raised the alarm on Polish judicial reforms, but the European Commission declined to speak out so far.

Manfred Weber, the German head of the centre-right EPP group, the largest in the European Parliament, said on Thursday (13 July) that EU states and the Commission ought to “take measures against the Polish government”.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Ziobro to have power over judicial appointments (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

He said it was “putting an end to the rule of law and democracy in Poland and leaving the European community of values”.

Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian politician who leads the liberal Alde group, called for a special hearing with Commission deputy head Frans Timmermans and Polish justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro.

The Council of Europe, a legal watchdog in Europe, also called the Polish changes a "major setback for judicial independence."

Its human rights commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, said Warsaw did it in the teeth of “compelling contrary advice" .

The outcry came after Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party pushed two bills through the lower house on Wednesday.

Its reform of the National Council of the Judiciary, which appoints judges, would give PiS the power to pick 15 out of the Council’s 25 members.

A second bill gave Ziobro new powers over lower court appointments.

PiS is also preparing a third bill, on the Supreme Court, which supervises lower courts, that would see all of its judges let go expect those whom Ziobro says can stay on.

The bills must be passed by the senate and signed by the Polish president.

But PiS has a majority in the lower and upper houses.

Meanwhile, Andrzej Dera, a spokesman for president Andrzej Duda, who also hails from PiS, told Polish TV on Thursday that he “didn’t foresee a veto in these cases”.

The MEPs’ outcry comes amid an existing Commission clash over a PiS plan to install loyalists in Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, which screens new laws.

It also comes amid broader EU concerns that Poland under PiS is drifting away from European norms and values.

The party has turned state media into pro-PiS propaganda outlets.

It faces EU court action over its boycott of EU migrant relocation quotas.

It also faces EU legal action over its decision to log trees in Bialowierza, a prehistoric forest, in what Jan Szyszko, a PiS minister, recently called “some kind of a flagship for the left-wing-libertine movement of Western Europe.”

Commission silence

A Commission spokesman on Thursday declined to comment on the judicial bills, however.

The spokesman, Alexander Winterstein, said a Commission rule-of-law monitoring procedure, which was earlier triggered by the Constitutional Court dispute, would take a look at the latest developments and that Timmermans might speak out later.

Winterstein rejected accusations that the Commission had been weak on Poland and on Hungary, which has also pushed through illiberal reforms.

He said that when Hungary recently sent out an anti-EU pamphlet to its citizens the Commission publicly debunked its contents.

“You can’t say the Commission isn’t making its positions clear,” Winterstein said.

The PiS party defended its reforms in parliament on Wednesday.

Deputy justice minister Lukasz Piebiak said the new system would be “more civilised, more of a European standard”.

He said judges in lower courts would be assigned to cases via a German software programme that was “unbreakable” to hackers.

Andrzej Matusiewicz, a PiS MP, said justice ministers in the Czech Republic, Germany, and Latvia also had powers over judicial appointments.

PiS-ocracy?

Ziobro said it was right the ruling party should extend power over the judiciary because Poland was “a democarcy … not a court-ocracy”.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the PiS chief, did not speak out but was the target of opposition rebukes.

Michal Szczerba, from the Civic Platform party, said everybody knew he was the “headhunter” who would get to name the 15 National Council judges.

Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, from the Modern party, said Kaczysnki, back when he was 39 years old, had fought the Communist regime, but that now, aged 70, he was “taking the path of dictatorship”.

Borys Budka, a former Civic Paltform justice minister, said: “PiS won power by democratic means. By changing the law on the Supreme Court it wants to guarantee it never loses that power”.

Interview

Gay rights face backlash in Poland

Polish society is becoming more gay-friendly, but anti-gay activists are becoming more radical and the government is doing little to stop it, says gay right activist Agata Chaber.

Poland avoids talks on rule-of-law sanctions

EU ministers meeting in Brussels asked the Polish government to reverse its judicial reform, in their first discussion of the European Commission's probe.

Opinion

The dangers of resurgent nationalism in Greece

Virulent nationalism in Greece has been stirred up in the context of austerity and renewed negotiations with Macedonia. Recent attempts by the government to address the inequalities suffered by LGBT persons have also been met with a reactionary backlash.

Opinion

Linking EU funds to 'rule of law' is innovative - but vague

Defining what constitutes 'rule of law' violations may be more difficult than the EU Commission proposes, as it tries to link cohesion funds in east Europe to judicial independence. A key question will be who is to 'judge' those judges?

News in Brief

  1. Italy set to pick eurosceptic finance minister
  2. UK foreign minister fooled by Russian pranksters
  3. Rajoy ally gets 33 years in jail for corruption
  4. Close race as polls open in Irish abortion referendum
  5. Gazprom accepts EU conditions on gas supplies
  6. Facebook tells MEPs: non-users are not profiled
  7. Commission proposes ending France deficit procedure
  8. UK households hit with Brexit income loss

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman requests more lending transparency from European Investment Bank
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  3. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  4. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  5. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  6. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  8. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  12. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May
  2. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  6. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  8. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  9. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  10. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  11. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  12. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations