EU goes on offensive over controversial Polish judicial reforms

Written by Martin Banks on 24 July 2017 in News
News

MEP accuses Poland of “striking at the root of the rule of law” over a controversial set of laws that will give the country’s politicians control over its supreme court.

Scales of Justice | Photo credit: Press Association


Leading Green MEP Sven Giegold’s remarks come as the EU is now expected to give Poland’s right-wing government until September to amend the legislation.

The latest developments in what is becoming an increasing bitter dispute between the EU and Warsaw comes with Poland’s right-wing government being accused by Donald Tusk of “dragging the country back in time.”

Tusk, president of the European council and a former Polish prime minister, said the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) was reversing decades of progress through its authoritarian agenda.

His comments echo those of the first vice president of the European commission, Frans Timmermans, who warned that such was the threat to the independence of the country’s judges from a series of proposed laws, the EU was “very close” to triggering article 7 – a mechanism, as yet unused, that could ultimately lead to Poland losing its voting rights in the council of ministers.

Following a telephone conversation with the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, Tusk issued a statement saying, “I have contacted President Duda to suggest an urgent meeting to discuss the political crisis in our country and its dangerous consequences for Poland's standing on the world stage. It falls to us, together, to avert bleak outcomes which could ultimately lead to the marginalisation of Poland in Europe.

“I have contacted President Duda to suggest an urgent meeting to discuss the political crisis in our country and its dangerous consequences for Poland's standing on the world stage. It falls to us, together, to avert bleak outcomes which could ultimately lead to the marginalisation of Poland in Europe" European council President Donald Tusk

“We view the proposals put forward today by the party of government differently. It is my belief that its most recent actions go against European values and standards and risk damaging our reputation. They transport us - in the political sense - in time and in space: backwards and eastwards.”

Tusk added, "The President most certainly thinks otherwise. But not even the deepest differences can absolve us from our duty to work together for the good and safety of our mother country.”

The Polish senate defied international condemnation early on Saturday and mass demonstrations in Warsaw to approve a law that allows the firing of its current supreme court judges, except those chosen by the justice minister and approved by the president. Protests are continuing in Poland.

However despite increasing dismay at developments, the commission needs time to build support before suspending a country’s voting rights in the EU for the first time.

The legislation passed on Saturday is only one of a series of contentious legal reforms being pursued by PiS which have prompted tens of thousands to take to the streets in protest against what many claim is the death of Polish democracy.

The new law gives the president the power to issue regulations for the supreme court’s work. It also introduces a disciplinary chamber that, on a motion from the justice minister, would handle suspected breaches of regulations or ethics. The law now requires only the signature of the president who was previously a member of PiS, to become binding.

Timmermans, it is believed, will now suggest at a meeting of commissioners on Wednesday that Poland be given until the next general affairs council of EU ministers, on 25 September, to respond to claims that its measures are a systemic threat to the rule of law.

On Monday, further comment came from Giegold, a leading German MEP, who said: "It is good news that the commission has sent a clear message to the Polish government. Europe must not remain silent when a member state strikes at the roots of the rule of law. The democratic separation of powers must not put into question.”

“The inquisition offensive against Poland can never succeed, because Hungary will use all legal options in the EU to show solidarity with the Poles" Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán

Giegold added, "The criticism of the European Commission is welcome but equally contestable. As long as there is no regular EU monitoring of the rule of law in all member states, it is easy for countries such as Poland or Hungary to denounce criticism from Brussels.”

“It’s only if all member states are treated equally according to the same criteria, that EU controls are truly credible and fair. The commission should evaluate the rule law in all member states using the same parameters in order to confront the despisers of democracy effectively. All EU member states show deficits when it comes to the rule of law and the separation of powers."

Meanwhile, the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who has also incurred the EU’s wrath over recent months on legislative changes in his country, said on Saturday that Budapest would fight to defend Poland. “The inquisition offensive against Poland can never succeed, because Hungary will use all legal options in the EU to show solidarity with the Poles,” he said.

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

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