Poland May Have to Leave EU over Dubious Judicial Reform Plans, Supreme Court Warns

Poland May Have to Leave EU over Dubious Judicial Reform Plans, Supreme Court Warns

Under the draft law, judges could be removed from their posts for taking part in “activities of a political nature” or acting in a way that could “harm the functioning of the justice system.”

Poland might end up having to leave the European Union because of controversial judicial reform plans by the ruling conservative party to allow the government to fire judges, the country’s Supreme Court has warned.

Poland’s ruling party “Law and Justice” (PiS), which scored a categorical win in the Polish general elections in October 2019, has already been at odds with the EU institutions over its judicial reforms criticized as cracking down on the independence of the courts.

The conservative and nationalist formation led by former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski now plans to make it possible for the government to fire judges if they question the legitimacy of the government’s judicial reforms.

The plans could collide with EU law, creating further tensions between Poland’s rulers and the institutions of the European Union, which could have a fatal effect on the country’s EU membership, according to the highest Polish court.

“Contradictions between Polish law and EU law … will in all likelihood lead to an intervention by the EU institutions regarding an infringement of the EU treaties, and in the longer perspective (will lead to) the need to leave the European Union,” Poland’s Supreme Court said in a statement, as cited by TVN24.

The Supreme Court statement also said the proposed bill was “evidently” designed to allow President Andrzej Duda, an ally of PiS, to pick a new head of the court before a presidential election expected in May.

Under the draft legislation tabled to Poland’s parliament, PiS aims to prevent judges from ruling that peers nominated by a panel appointed by the party are not independent. Thus, judges could be removed from their posts for taking part in “activities of a political nature” or acting in a way that could “harm the functioning of the justice system.”

The current head of Poland’s Supreme Court, Malgorzata Gersdorf, was appointed before PiS came to power and has been openly critical of the party’s reforms. Her term expires in April 2020.

Gersdorf has called a meeting of all judges for March 17 so they can participate in the process of choosing the next head of the Supreme Court, court spokesman Michal Laskowski told a news conference.

The EU has been accusing PiS of politicizing the Polish judiciary since the party swept to power in 2015.

“The Commission has a very clear position on protecting the judiciary from political interference,” European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand told Reuters in response to the Supreme Court statement.

“The Commission continues to follow the situation closely. We remain ready and available to discuss with the Polish authorities ways forward to resolving the issues at hand,” he added.

The EU had said on Monday it would investigate whether the draft law undermines judicial independence.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive, has already launched rule-of-law investigations over the attempt of the ruling parties in Poland and Hungary to impose government control over the media and the courts. Those can theoretically lead to suspending the respective countries’ EU voting rights.

Poland has been a member of the EU for 15 years now, and a major beneficiary from EU funding, while EU membership remains highly popular in the country.

(Banner image: Barbora Cernosakova on Twitter)

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