The European Commission has launched infringement proceedings against Poland, saying the country’s new law on the judiciary undermines the judicial independence of Polish judges.
The EU executive said several elements of the new legislation violate EU law.
According to the commission, the law prevents Polish courts from fulfilling their obligation to apply EU law or request preliminary rulings from the EU Court of Justice.
The law also requires judges to disclose specific information about their non-professional activities which the Commission says is “incompatible with the right to respect for private life.”
These are the main findings of a lengthy Commission analysis of the relevant law.
The Polish government has been given two months to reply. After this time, the Commission can ask for a fine against Poland.
Warsaw has, separately, come under further fire for arranging a presidential election on May 10 despite the Coronavirus health crisis. It has been claimed that pushing ahead with the ballot is unconstitutional and poses public health risks.
Earlier this month, the European Court of Justice suspended the disciplinary chamber of Poland’s Supreme Court over questions about its independence.
“If the rule of law [in Poland] is damaged or harmed it will be more difficult for citizens to emerge from the crisis” EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders
EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, addressing MEPs on the situation in Poland via a video link last week, said, “If the rule of law is damaged or harmed it will be more difficult for citizens to emerge from the crisis.”
“To deal with this challenge we need a functioning and independent judiciary including independent and quality judges.”
Meanwhile, fresh concern has been voiced about the rule of law in Hungary, another Member State which, like Poland, finds itself at loggerheads with the EU.
Bertelsmann Stiftung’s 2020 Transformation Index (BTI), named Hungary’s “authoritarian” trajectory as an example of “the dismantling of the rule of law and civil liberties in once-stable democracies” on a global level.
The authors of the Index, which measures political and economic developments in developing and transition countries every two years, said Hungary had fallen to become the third least democratic country in East-Central and Southeast Europe.
Hungary was ranked 93rd out of 137 countries on BTI’s governance index, which measures the quality of political leadership, coming second last in the East-Central and Southeast Europe region.
Democratic regression continued in Hungary, the authors noted, highlighting that rule of law was “increasingly under attack from within” and that the government took steps to further undermine the separation of powers, including curtailing the autonomy of the judiciary.
The authors said, “The viktor Orban government has further expanded and centralised its influence over the media, a development which keeps government supporters in an alternate universe.”