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EU legal challenge against Poland

July 29, 2017

The European Union has launched official legal action against Poland over parts of a judicial reform package. The procedure kicks off a process that could see Poland taken to the European Court of Justice.

Demonstration in Warschau verknotete Flaggen Polen EU
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/L. Szymanski

The European Commission on Saturday launched an "infringement procedure" against Poland over parts of controversial judiciary reforms.

The EU executive decided on Wednesday to start legal action against Poland for violating the bloc's law, but had to wait until Poland officially published the new law to send a letter to Warsaw.

The Commission is concerned that the reforms will undermine the independence of the judiciary by giving the justice minister discretionary power to extend the mandate of common judges, as well as dismiss and appoint lower court presidents.

"The new rules allow the Minister of Justice to exert influence on individual ordinary judges through, in particular, the vague criteria for the prolongation of their mandates, thereby undermining the principle of irremovability of judges," the Commission said in a statement.

It also took issue with the introduction of different retirement ages for female and male judges, set at 60 and 65 years, respectively. That aspect of the reform violates EU anti-discrimination policy.

EU piles on pressure

Poland's governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) now has one month to respond. If the Polish response is unsatisfactory, the Commission can issue requests that Warsaw must implement its recommendations within two months.

If Poland fails to implement the recommendations, it could end up at the European Court of Justice. Decisions from Europe's top court are binding and can result in fines on members.

Polish President Andrzej Duda signed the reform on Tuesday. But after the EU warnings and mass protests, the president surprisingly vetoed two other controversial laws passed by lawmakers.

Those reforms would have increased political control over the Supreme Court, removed its judges and allowed lawmakers to choose members of a body that decides on court appointments.

PiS has vowed to push through the reforms despite the veto.

The Commission has warned Poland that it could trigger Article 7 if the Supreme Court reforms are implemented. 

Article 7 is an action, never before used, that would see Poland lose its voting rights in the European Council, or meeting of European ministers, for violating fundamental EU laws.

The EU and Poland have been in disagreement since the conservative PiS came to power in 2015 seeking a series of legal and media reforms that critics say undermine democracy and the rule of law. 

Last year, the EU took the unprecedented step of launching a process of reviewing the rule of law in Poland.  

My picture of the week | Poland's struggle for democracy

cw/tj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)