Sunday

2nd Apr 2023

Poland blinks in EU rule-of-law dispute

  • The leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski also said he wants judges to no longer have legal immunity in Poland (Photo: pis.org)

Poland's de facto leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, has said the country would change its system of disciplining judges to compromise in a long-standing legal dispute with the EU.

However, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party also said the disciplinary chamber - which the EU has said breaks the bloc's laws - would not so much cease functioning, as take a different shape.

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The disciplinary chamber will be changed from its "current form", Kaczyński told state-owned Polish news agency PAP on Saturday (7 August).

The EU's top court last month repeated its call that the disciplinary chamber should be "immediately" suspended because of a lack of independence and lack of impartiality, which violated EU laws.

In response, Poland's top court rejected the EU's order as being unconstitutional.

The outcome added to concerns that Poland was no longer abiding by EU rules, putting into question the EU's legal functioning.

Critics say the disciplinary chamber is used to punish judges critical of the Kaczyński government and to put political pressure on judges.

The EU Commission has given Warsaw until 16 August to comply or face a fine.

Meanwhile, Kaczyński said the government will propose changes to the disciplinary system in September.

"We will shut down the disciplinary chamber in the format under which it currently operates and this will remove the subject of the [EU] dispute," Kaczyński told PAP, without giving details of the specific legal solution.

"There is the issue of the format of the disciplinary chamber, but it does not mean that the chamber will not function in any form," he said.

Kaczyński also said he did not accept "such rulings as they definitely go beyond the treaties" of the EU, and said that he wanted judges to no longer have legal immunity in Poland.

He added that it would be a test for the EU if it had a "semblance of goodwill" or just wanted Poland "to be ruled only by those handpicked by the EU authorities".

His comments were a sign that Poland might seek to de-escalate the rule-of-law conflict with the EU, as it wants to secure its access to the almost €24bn of EU funds available for its post-Covid economic recovery.

However, the disciplinary chamber is only part of the legal disputes between Poland and the EU.

Poland has been under EU scrutiny since 2017 because Kaczyński's judicial overhaul has continuously raised alarm over the independence of the judiciary.

"The mere dissolution of the Disciplinary Chamber doesn't solve the problem of past, unlawful decisions and sanctions adopted by this body," Laurent Pech, professor of European law at Middlesex University, London told Reuters.

The PiS-led ruling coalition government has been split over whether to compromise with the EU.

On Friday, Poland's justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, who leads United Poland, one of the smaller and more hawkish coalition partners, insisted that Poland should not back down.

"I am a staunch opponent of succumbing to the illegal blackmail of the European Union carried out by the Court of Justice of the European Union," Ziobro told the Rzeczpospolita daily.

"The belief that the EU is a good uncle and gives us money, and that we should accept all its demands at all costs, is propaganda and false," he also said according to Reuters, while adding that Poland remain in the EU, but not at any cost.

In the meantime, the president of Poland's Supreme Court, Małgorzata Manowska, last Thursday partially suspended the disciplinary chamber for judges until mid-November.

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The rule-of-law report comes in a crucial moment as Brussels is currently approving member states' recovery plans, conditional on having a robust justice system and anti-corruption framework.

Poland drifting further into EU legal limbo

The fact the Polish justice minister has "unfettered, unreviewable and non-transparent discretion" on jobs for judges undermined judicial independence there, an EU legal expert has said.

EU commission rejects MEPs' rule-of-law ultimatum

Some MEPs described the commission chief's letter as a "provocation" and "hair-splitting" on a rule-of-law mechanism that was meant to stop democratic backsliding in EU states.

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