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Poland tells EU to back off on judicial reforms

March 8, 2018

Poland has presented details of a controversial judiciary overhaul to the EU, along with a warning that criticism from the bloc may backfire. EU sanctions over the reforms are under discussion.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker
Image: Reuters/Y. Herman

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was in Brussels on Thursday to deliver a document that sets out the case for judicial reform: to improve efficiency and remove judges who were "entangled in dishonorable service" in Poland until 1989, when the communist regime fell from power.

"These talks were very constructive and very promising," Morawiecki said after meeting European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. "We will certainly continue them and I hope that, sooner or later, our views will converge even more, will converge enough to reach a full agreement on the judicial reform we proposed to our citizens."

Morawiecki said Poland expected the document to be studied "seriously and thoroughly" by EU leaders and members.

The reforms have been criticized as an attempt by Poland's Law and Justice (PiS) government to bring the courts under its control and to impose stricter controls on the media. 

Warsaw protest in 2017 against the Supreme Court legislation
Warsaw protest in 2017 against the Supreme Court legislationImage: Reuters/K. Pempel

Criticism could spur anti-European sentiment

The Polish text also warned other EU states to avoid pushing Warsaw too far, suggesting that pressure might strengthen "anti-European sentiment" in Poland. "It can lead to the growth of populist political forces, seeking to dismantle or weaken ... the European Union."

Last month, during a visit by Morawiecki to Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel had said the rule of law was "one of the basic obligations that all are committed to who want to be member states of the European Union."

Last week, lawmakers in the European Parliament (MEPs) voted by a large majority in favor of a nonbinding resolution urging the EU to put Poland on the path toward sanctions for breaching the bloc's laws. Parliamentarians argued that Poland's changes violate the principle of judicial independence and equality. MEPs approved by 422 to 147 a resolution supporting the European Commission's decision to trigger Article 7 against Poland for passing constitutional reforms that undermine the independence of the judiciary.

Last November MEPs had said the situation in Poland represented a "clear risk of serious breach" of EU values.

Poland is also taking issue with the EU over migration and environmental policies.

Graphic showing EU member states' commitments to refugee quotas

Budget time in the EU

Negotiations are getting underway for the EU's seven-year financial framework, which starts in 2021. It needs agreement from all 27 members.

The Netherlands and Sweden have joined Germany in pushing for financial penalties on Poland if it does not fulfill its EU obligations - including accepting resettled migrants.

For the last period, EU budgeting for 2014-2020 allocated €105.8 billion ($130.4 billion) to Poland, making it the largest beneficiary of EU funds among all the member states, according to Poland's Treasury Ministry.

If the dispute is not settled, Poland could face losing billions of euros.

The rise of anti-immigration leaders

jm/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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