European Commission increases pressure on Poland in rule of law dispute

European Commission increases pressure on Poland in rule of law dispute
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw September 13, 2017

The European Commission took a further step in disciplining Poland over controversial reforms of its judiciary on September 12.

The commission’s move brings Poland closer to facing a court case in the Court of Justice of the European Union, which could impose fines if Warsaw does not comply with Brussels’ requests to back down on the reforms.

The EU executive insists that the reforms threaten courts’ independence by giving too much power over the judiciary to the ministry of justice. One element of the reform, different rules of retirement for male and female judges, also breaches the EU rules of gender equality, the EU executive says.

The Commission is also mulling whether to trigger Article 7 of the EU treaty that – in theory - could strip Poland of its voting rights in the bloc, the first such case in history.

The EU executive launched an infringement case against Poland over the judiciary reforms in July. It has now sent Warsaw a so-called reasoned opinion, which is a step before the case is sent to court. Poland has one month to respond. 

Poland has dismissed the commission’s arguments so far, claiming the reforms address the Polish society’s widespread expectations for the courts to function more effectively. The ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) has recently kicked off a media campaign to popularize the reforms.

PiS faced street protests in July, when it first tried to push through the reforms, which included an overhaul of the Supreme Court and giving the government a decisive influence in appointing judges to the country's courts.

The party’s plans suffered a setback when President Andrzej Duda – so far a loyal functionary of PiS – vetoed two key bills of the reform. The president said he would prepare the bills from scratch and present them to the parliament for a debate later this month.