Monday

4th Mar 2024

EU court blocks Poland's bid to 'frighten' judges

  • Polish disciplinary board risked 'serious damage to the EU legal order', EU court said (Photo: Piotr Pawłowski)

The EU Court of Justice has said Poland must suspend the activities of a new judicial disciplinary board in order to prevent "serious and irreparable harm to the interests of the EU".

The board, created in 2017 as part of wider judicial reforms, was stuffed with 15 politically-appointed members by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Polish judge Igor Tuleya could be jailed for up to three years (Photo: Ralf Lotys)

It was to have claimed its first victim in March, when it was to have waived the immunity of Igor Tuleya, a judge who is also a fierce PiS critic, so that he could be prosecuted.

The charges - which he has ridiculed, but which could see him jailed - alleged he once illegally let journalists attend a closed court hearing.

And the whole affair was meant to "frighten other judges, to have a chilling effect, to show them: 'Look: He issued a verdict which we [PiS] think was wrong, so he was punished'," Tuleya told EUobserver in a recent interview.

His hearing was put off due to the pandemic, but now it cannot go ahead unless Poland ignores Wednesday's (8 April) EU court injunction, incurring potentially huge fines.

The "interim" ruling took effect immediately and was to last until the court issued a final one down the line.

The new disciplinary board meant "the mere prospect that they [Polish judges] may be subject to disciplinary proceedings which may be referred to a body whose independence would not be guaranteed is likely to affect their own independence", the EU court verdict said, echoing Tuleya.

And it meant "serious damage to the EU legal order and thus to the rights which individuals derive from EU law and to the values ... on which the EU is founded", the court added.

For their part, Tuleya, as well as Donald Tusk, Poland's former leader and the ex-president of the EU Council, have warned that if PiS did not back down, it could, one day, lead to Poland's EU exit.

The EU's justice commissioner, Vera Juorova, was less drastic on Wednesday.

The Polish disciplinary board was "problematic" and the European Commission had "grave concerns" about it, she told nine major European newspapers in an interview.

The PiS government said it was analysing the EU verdict.

But two PiS MPs - Arkadiusz Mularczyk and Sebastian Kaleta - attacked the EU court, saying it had gone beyond its competence.

"Today's decision was an act of usurpation harming Polish sovereignty," Kaleta said.

Free and fair?

Meanwhile, Poland is going ahead with presidential elections in early May despite the pandemic.

The decision favoured the incumbent, PiS-loyalist Andrzej Duda, who is being pushed by PiS-run state media, while other candidates cannot campaign due to a lockdown.

The election is to take place by postal vote, a first for the country, which pushed through a new law about it on Monday

But Jourova was also "worried about free and fair elections and the quality of voting, about its legality and constitutionality", she said.

"If I was a Polish citizen, I'd want to know exactly how this vote will take place, because it's not long from now," she added.

The validity of the election is to be decided by Poland's Chamber of Extraordinary Control and Public Affairs.

But the chamber has also been stuffed with PiS loyalists, raising concerns similar to those on the new judicial disciplinary board.

The chamber "will expose all of us not only to legal chaos, but may deprive Poles of their electoral rights," Krystian Markiewicz, a senior Polish judge, said on Wednesday.

And given the similarities, "today's CJEU [EU court] decision not only clearly prohibits the Polish government to illegally repress judges ... but has a much broader effect - it should close the way for abuse of the arbitrary recognition of the elections' validity", Markiewicz added.

Orban power

Jourova went on to raise the alarm on Hungary, in a sign of wider EU problems with rule of law, including in Malta and Romania.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban's recent measures - to rule by decree during the health crisis - "lacked an end date" for the special powers to expire, Jourova noted.

The commission could not allow him to have "uncontrolled powers", she said.

"Parliamentary control and control by independent media are now more important than ever," she added.

Opinion

Poland's sham presidential election in a pandemic

Declaring a state of emergency is not even an option on the table for Poland's Law and Justice (PiS) chairman Jarosław Kaczyński - as it would render the 10 May election impossible.

Hungary and Poland in spotlight for lockdown moves

The EU commission is double-checking emergency measures in every member state, as fundamental rights have been temporarily abrogated. But Hungary and Poland are problematic, yet no actions are planned.

Interview

Kaczyński turning Poland into 'Franco's Spain'

Polish ruling party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński is trying to turn the country into a Roman Catholic dictatorship, Poland's former foreign minister has said.

Latest News

  1. EU must overhaul Africa trade offer to parry China, warns MEP
  2. EU watchdog faults European Commission over Libya
  3. Hungary's Ukrainian refugees in two minds as relations sour
  4. The six-hour U-turn that saw the EU vote for austerity
  5. Defence, von der Leyen, women's rights, in focus This WEEK
  6. The farming lobby vs Europe's wolves
  7. EU socialists fight battle on two fronts in election campaign
  8. EU docks €32m in funding to UN Gaza agency pending audit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us